Monday, January 16, 2006

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

First off, I'd like to say: Warren Oates! HELL YEAH!! Okay, now that that's out of the way... This is that rare breed of film -- a car-racing film that doesn't bore the crap out of me. This is likely because it's a movie about cars without being a Car Movie -- the automobiles are the means to the story, not the story itself. It's a story of contrast, with Dennis Wilson and James Taylor playing the mellow yin to Oates' jittery yang. Taylor and Wilson have a Zenlike inner calm that plays well off Oates' braggadocio -- essentially, it's framed as a struggle between the spiritual and the material. Oates's peripatetic malcontent genuinely seems to consider this a competition, while Taylor and Wilson are possessed of a great inner peace that seems to suggest consciousness on a higher plane (they couldn't really care less about the outcome, they just need to keep moving forward). There's also the dichotomy of involvement vs. detachment as played out in the various hitchhikers that float through the film (Taylor and Wilson keep Laurie Bird along for the ride but don't seem to need or even notice her much of the time, while Oates compulsively picks up people just to have someone who'll listen to him and thus make him feel wanted). Like most automobiles, it takes some time to warm up, but once it gets out on the open road it goes ninety to nothing towards a perfect ending. Also: this may be the only chance anyone will ever get to hear James Taylor say "motherfucker". Also: Warren Oates! HELL YEAH!! (Seriously, Oates is amazing in this film, using friendly torrents of often-conflicting dialogue to suggest deep spiritual turmoil. They should teach this performance in acting schools.)

Grade: B+


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