An energetic and thrilling piece of counter-culture cinema, Richard C. Sarafian’s Vanishing Point delivers in a way that most high octane car chase movies don’t. This 1971 film is pure cinema, the perfect combination of old-school Americana: a super-up automobile and the blasting radio across the wide open road.
Barry Newman is Kowalski, a car delivery driver charged with driving a Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in less than a day. He takes the gig seriously, too seriously, as he’s soon got the cops on his tail, trying to take him down before he hits his final destination.
Newman’s Kowalski is the ultimate cinematic anti-hero. A war hero turned cop turned speed-racer turned delivery driver, Kowalski is a man of few words, but he’s one hell of a talent behind the wheel. It’s a wonderful turn from the actor who is best known for ’70s series Petrocelli and Steven Soderbergh’s 1999 thriller The Limey. Kowalski might be a man of few words but Cleavon Little’s Super Soul is the heart of the movie, a radio DJ who sees Kowalski as a pure installation of a rebel who is willing to ‘sock it to the man’. Super Soul peppers the movie with advice, wit and music helping keep Kowalski on tack when times get tough.
Vanishing Point is filled with some exceptional stunt work and John A. Alonzo’s fast and loose cinematography adds a serious energy to Sarafian’s film, while an eclectic soundtrack also helps to make this an expressive piece of filmmaking. It’s Smokey And The Bandit with brains.
Coming across as the cinematic equivalent of a Bruce Springsteen song, Vanishing Point is about raw Americana. It’s a film from a time and place where an entire generation was caught between the ideals of wanting to be free and being thrust into a world of big business. The locations on display are remote and rundown, showing an America just a few decades after the Great Depression.