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Jennifer Jason Leigh,
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A young man transporting a car to another state is stalked along the road by a cunning and relentless serial killer who eventually frames the driver for a string of murders. Chased by police and shadowed by the killer, the driver's only help comes from a truck stop waitress. Written by
Keith Loh <email@example.com>
some kind of insane and intensely tense thriller that rarely comes around anymore
The Hitcher is guided to being such an awesome feat because it features a character and a performance that lift reality into hyper-reality, and it's frightening and fascinating to see how the character John Ryder becomes like a presence as alarming as just a state of mind than as an actual threat. It may be a super anti-kindness to an extent (one could say that Jim Halsey is asking for it simply by picking up the man in coat and thumb out in the dead of night in the rainy desert), but once it takes off from its point of departure it doesn't stop. In that sense Robert Harman's film could make some comparison to Spielberg's Duel, only this case in place of a truck is, well, Rutger Hauer. It's a purely relentless cat-and-mouse game, as ambiguous about what lies behind the dark forces of life and death as No Country for Old Men (if not quite as timeless as that film).
It should be said, plain and simple, Hauer's performance here and in Blade Runner are his definitive work as an actor. He's does so much with so little that even when he's not totally on screen or isn't in frame he gives the chills incredibly by his face, those eyes peering out. Him and Kinski have that affectation, though with Hauer there's something about him that could, under other circumstances, look very kind and heartfelt. But between scenes like his "talk" with Jim at the diner to his mere (more than usual) startling re-appearance in the motel room lying next to Jennifer Jason Leigh, one can't help but feel his character and performance to a degree straddles the line of reality and the supernatural, as if it's all allegory while at the same time directed and acted with such a straight face. Considering the whole concept is based off of the Doors song "Riders on the Storm" I hope that comes as sincere a compliment at possible.
But Hauer isn't alone in delivering an uncommonly good performance in a thriller. Years before he became just another hack-actor looking for whatever work he could (such as last year's War of the Worlds 2 and Day the Earth Stopped), C. Thomas Howell was delivering the goods and this shows him in his own right as a fine counterpart to Hauer. At his older counterpart's level? Probably not, but it's hard not to feel for him and see him go deeper into the insanity of the story as it unfolds. What will finally lead him to killing this psychopath on his trail? Will he have to take a cop or two with him? The dilemma is further compounded by the immediate task to stay alive.
In a more conventional neo-noir it might be simply that Ryder would set up Jim with these crimes or whatever on the road and that Jim would have to do heavy jail time without any witnesses or evidence of the existence of this "Mr Ryder". But the writer of the script, Eric Red, is far more interested in the minute-to-minute danger present with Ryder's vendetta with Jim. What is it about death or murder that keeps this young guy from going for it? I have to wonder if Christopher Nolan watched this film, and particularly studied the climax, for the Dark Knight (one can see the ambiguity with his Joker and obsession against the Batman as a comparison to Jim and Ryder), since at the least the Hitcher delivers so strongly on counts of storytelling, acting, cinematography, even the somewhat dated 80s music sticks tough. And in case it needed it, the action is cool too (maybe *too* cool in that way that sadly inspired Michael Bay to produce a remake).
Not for the squeamish, and certainly not for budding Rutger Hauer fans to miss, the film is something of a minor mid-80s classic.
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