Breakdown (1997 film)

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Promotional poster
Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis
Martha De Laurentiis
Screenplay by Jonathan Mostow
Sam Montgomery
Story by Jonathan Mostow
Starring Kurt Russell
J. T. Walsh
Kathleen Quinlan
M. C. Gainey
Music by Basil Poledouris
Cinematography Douglas Milsome
Edited by Derek Brechin
Kevin Stitt
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • May 2, 1997 (1997-05-02)
Running time
93 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $36 million[1]
Box office $50.1 million[1]

Breakdown is a 1997 American adventure mystery thriller film directed and co-written by Jonathan Mostow. The film stars Kurt Russell, J. T. Walsh (in one of his final film roles), and Kathleen Quinlan. The original music score was composed by Basil Poledouris. The film was produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Martha De Laurentiis and released on May 2, 1997 by Paramount Pictures.


While driving cross-country from Boston to San Diego in their new 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, Jeff Taylor and his wife Amy narrowly miss colliding with a beat-up 1990 Ford F-150 that darts in front of them from a connecting road on a deserted highway. Later, while stopped at a gas station, the truck's driver, Earl, exchanges hostile words with Jeff before the couple resume their journey. Shortly afterwards, their Jeep breaks down in the middle of the desert. Leaving Jeff with the car, Amy accepts a ride from a passing big rig trucker named Red Barr driving a Peterbilt 385, to get to a nearby diner and call for help. Jeff eventually discovers that the Jeep's battery connections have been suspiciously tampered with, and, after reconnecting them, drives to the diner, only to discover that no one has seen his wife. When he catches up to Barr on the road and forces him to stop, the trucker claims he has never seen Jeff or his wife before. Jeff hails a passing sheriff, named Boyd, but a brief search of Barr's truck yields no sign of Amy, and he is let go.

Jeff then goes to a police station where he is instructed by a deputy to go back to the diner and wait for his wife. There Jeff meets with a simpleton mechanic named Billy, who says he saw Amy arrive in one truck and leave in another. He tells Jeff where they have taken her, but refuses to speak with the police, thinking that they may be involved. Jeff heads to the location Billy mentioned, but is ambushed on a back road by Earl, and escapes by driving his Jeep into a river. Abandoning the Jeep and later circling back to watch his attackers salvage the Jeep from the river, Jeff is discovered and knocked out by Billy, an accomplice who had feigned mental impairment earlier.

Jeff awakens in the trunk of a car and is confronted by Billy and Earl and another accomplice named Al. Their leader, Red Barr, tells Jeff that his wife will be released in exchange for $90,000 that the kidnappers think Jeff has in his bank account. Knowing that he only has a small fraction of the assumed amount, Jeff enters a nearby bank to withdraw what little money he has. After a failed attempt to alert the bank manager to his plight, Jeff steals marked money ribbons and a letter opener from the manager's desk; Jeff uses the money ribbons to packet $1 bills in-between two $100 bills, fooling the kidnappers. With the ransom now in hand, Jeff is then instructed by phone to leave town, where he is picked up and bound with duct tape by Earl in his pickup truck.

While gloating about how Jeff and his wife were easy to abduct by rigging their car to break down after leaving the gas station, and bragging that he intends to kill them anyway, Earl discovers Jeff's ruse with the ransom. At that same moment, Jeff frees himself and stabs Earl in the chest with the letter opener. After a struggle, Jeff takes over the vehicle, binds Earl, and tortures him to reveal his rendezvous with Red at a local truck stop. Sheriff Boyd notices the speeding, swerving pickup in his patrol car and calls for backup before stopping the vehicle. When Jeff exits the truck with Earl's pistol in hand, a stressed Boyd misinterprets the situation and forces Jeff at gunpoint down onto the road. Earl frees himself and shoots Boyd with another pistol concealed in his boot. Just as Earl is about to shoot Jeff, a wounded Boyd shoots and kills Earl. Jeff uses Boyd's radio to call for an ambulance and heads to the truck stop Earl mentioned.

At the rest stop, Jeff avoids the police looking for him in connection to Boyd's shooting, and then spots Red speaking on a payphone with another accomplice. Jeff follows Red and stows away under his truck as Red drives away. Jeff loses his pistol while climbing on board, but arrives at Red's farm early the next morning. Jeff sneaks into the barn, finding signs of evidence that they have a history ambushing and killing tourists. Hiding in the barn, Jeff watches as Red and his accomplices take a bound and gagged Amy and lock her in a freezer in the barn's cellar, leaving her to die. Unable to open the locked cellar door, Jeff finds a gun and uses it to hold Red, his accomplices, and his wife and son at gunpoint, demanding the cellar key. Billy escapes, but Jeff forces the rest of the group to release Amy from the freezer before locking them in the cellar. Jeff and Amy then flee in a stolen Chevrolet C-20 pickup, while Billy returns to free Red and Al, who each pursue the Taylors in their respective vehicles.

During the pursuit, Billy is killed in a fiery crash when Jeff forces his car off the road, while the trailer from Red's truck detaches, causing Al to forcefully crash into it. Undeterred, Red attempts to ram Jeff's vehicle off a bridge, trapping Amy's leg underneath the dashboard. Jeff rushes out of the vehicle and into Red's big rig, where a struggle over the steering wheel causes Red's truck to fall over the edge and become suspended by a steel bridge support. Jeff then battles Red on the suspended big rig, eventually hurling Red to the rocks below. Jeff frees Amy from the dashboard, after which she pulls the automatic shift on their pickup, causing the semi to fall on Red and crush him. Sitting on the edge of the bridge beside their mangled pickup truck, Jeff and Amy embrace each other.



Breakdown was filmed on location in Sacramento, California, Victorville, California, Pyramid Lake (Los Angeles County, California), Moab, Utah, and Sedona, Arizona. Barstow, California


The score was written by Basil Poledouris, with contributions from Steve Forman, Judd Miller, Eric Colvin and Richard Marvin.

It was released as a limited edition of 3,000 units by LaLaLand Records in June 2011, and as of January 2013 is still available. The release comprises a 3-CD set: the first CD contains the score as heard in the film, which contains material from additional composers. This is not 100% complete; omitting a few extremely low-key passages from the early scenes; nor is it chronological - some cues have been combined and re-ordered to maintain a listening experience.

The second CD contains an alternate early version of many cues by Poledouris that represent a different, far more orchestral approach to scoring the film (the score in the film stripped away many layers, and left mostly percussive and sound design elements for many cues.)

The third CD contains further alternates that demonstrate the changing nature of the music as scenes were re-scored.


Critical reception

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 80% of critics gave the film positive reviews based upon a sample of 47, with an average score of 7 out of 10.[2] At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 73 based on 19 reviews.[3] Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle praised the film, "Breakdown use[s] old-fashioned ingenuity — plus a compelling star, a fast-paced mystery and a deadpan villain — to come up with a sizzler."[4] Roger Ebert gave the film a positive review, calling it "taut, skillful and surgically effective" although he felt the "ending is unworthy of it".[5] Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post criticized Russell for not conveying a desperate husband willing to fight for his missing wife, writing "He does a lot of running around while making desperate faces, but he never projects a sense of deep rage. He never gets dangerous. Thus the movie is shorn of its one primitive gratification: the image of the civilized man who finds the Peruvian commando inside himself and lays waste to louts who have underestimated him."[6]

In 2014, Time Out polled several film critics, directors, actors and stunt actors to list their top action films.[7] Breakdown was listed at 90th place on this list.[8]

Box office performance

Breakdown debuted at first place at the box office with $12.3 million.[9] After initially opening to 2,108 theaters, the film later expanded to 2,348 theaters and grossed a total of $50,159,144 in the United States and Canada.[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1
  2. "Breakdown (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. IGN Entertainment, Inc. Retrieved 2010-12-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Breakdown". Metacritic. CNET Networks, Inc. Retrieved 2010-12-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Stack, Peter (1997-05-02). "The Call of the Wild Ride". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-12-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Ebert, Roger (1997-05-02). "Breakdown". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-12-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Hunter, Stephen (1997-05-02). "'Breakdown': Heck on Wheels". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-12-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "The 100 best action movies". Time Out. Retrieved November 7, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "The 100 best action movies: 100-91". Time Out. Retrieved November 7, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Puig, Claudia (1997-05-06). "Weekend Box Office; Box Office Continues Its Breakout". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Breakdown". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-12-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links