Two-Lane Blacktop

1971, Movie, R, 102 mins

Review

TWO-LANE BLACKTOP
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Real-life rock stars Taylor and Wilson (the latter a member of the Beach Boys) are a pair of car freaks driving down the endless roads of the American Southwest in search of a race. They drive an old 1955 Chevy, using race winnings to keep the souped-up auto in shape. The pair have little to say to each other beyond car talk. At a small Arizona diner they meet Bird, who gets in the car with them, no questions asked. After winning another race, Taylor and Bird make love; the next evening it's Wilson's turn with her. Later the three meet up with Oates, an older drifter who travels across the US in his brand new GTO. He challenges them to a cross-country race to Washington, DC, with the winner taking ownership of the loser's car. Along the way the participants' interest in the race begins to wane. Wilson suggests to Bird that they ride off together. Taylor enters a race in Memphis, and Bird, bored with the younger men, heads off to North Carolina with Oates. Later she takes off with a motorcyclist, and Oates continues his aimless driving. Eventually, Wilson and Taylor find another race to run, and the movie ends ominously as they drive away from the camera down a two-lane road and the film burns and melts in the gate, leaving only a bright white light. Certainly not an average car chase movie, TWO-LANE BLACKTOP is perhaps director Monte Hellman's finest film. Known for his small, brooding existential westerns (THE SHOOTING, RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND), Hellman once again brings to life characters desperately searching for meaning. Oates, a close personal friend of Hellman's and lead player in nearly all his films, is magnificent in TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, bringing a perfect blend of comedy, mystery, and pathos to his role. It is a powerful and memorable screen appearance that is somewhat weakened by the amateur support from nonactors Taylor, Wilson, and Bird, whose limited abilities required delicate handling by Hellman. Expectations were high for this somber film, with the studio convinced they had another EASY RIDER on their hands. Esquire magazine ran a cover story on the film, reprinted screenwriter Wurlitzer's screenplay in its entirety, and proclaimed it "the movie of the year." The predictions fell far short; the majority of the movie-going public failed to understand the picture and found its portrayal of youthful boredom to be just that: boring. TWO-LANE BLACKTOP is very similar to the work of popular European existential filmmakers, but the fickle American "art house" crowd stayed away in droves, obviously preferring that their serious psychological dramas be imported from abroad. leave a comment

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