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STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning
Jim Halsey (C Thomas Howell) is a young man driving his car down a freeway one night who suddenly decides to stop for a man who is hitching a ride. That man is John Ryder (Rutger Hauer.) From the off-set, he doesn't make himself out to be a nice guy and he doesn't let up from there- threatening to kill Jim for no reason and making him sweat for his life. Jim manages to get rid of his twisted assailant- only to be thrown headlong into a maze of murderous mayhem as 'The Hitcher' goes on a killing spree (involving a lot of cops) with Jim getting taken as the scape-goat.
The film opens with a masterful bolt of suspense- in a thunderous rain-shower, The Hitcher holds out his thumb as a crack of thunder erupts over-head, setting the scene for the suspenseful, scary ride that's about to follow.
Hauer lives and breathes the role. In a career that sadly (because I really like the guy) declined into an endless sludge of direct to video hell shortly afterwards, this is quite possibly the role he'll best be remembered for (after all, he was only the co-star in Blade Runner.) Ryder is a cold, mean psycho whose only motivation seems to be to cause as much terror as he can. In his opening scene, he masterfully transforms very quickly from a bit of an arsehole into a threatening madman, as he explains to his charge why the last guy who gave him a ride won't get out to call for help. No clear explanation is ever discovered as to why he does what he does, the closest we get to this being a chat across a table in a diner, in which he offers "you're a smart boy...figure it out."
In the main supporting role Howell also shines (though nowhere near as much as Hauer), as the beleaguered, petrified young man whose endurance and sanity is pushed to breaking point. In an early role, Jennifer Jason Leigh makes a bit of an impression as the cafe owner's daughter love interest.
Spielberg's Duel first dealt with a man being hounded on an American highway for no reason...you are only left to guess 'The Hitcher' is meant to be the mad truck driver's brother. ****
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