one of the better thriller type pictures to come out in the last few years. it’s directed by john dahl who, in my estimation, is one of the more underrated directors right now. it’s not that he makes amazing films, it’s that he takes decent genre scripts and makes them work in spite (or sometimes even because) of some of the conventions. red rock west and last seduction are both great genre pics that, sadly, have gone mostly unnoticed. this film, and rounders, are john dahl’s most commercially known pictures but they don’t sacrifice anything in terms of quality.
his direction of the establishing reel is absolutely packed. everything flows on top of that which preceded it. dahl establishes the protagonist and his character very quickly and moves the story along so that the road trip portion of the film begins as quickly as possible. there’s an admirable degree of economy of storytelling in this first 10/15 minutes and i think the film benefits greatly from it. dahl uses props, good writing and efficient editing to set everything up quickly. images and sound cascade over each other to make a logical and coherent collage of storytelling which is remarkable because you’re seeing it in a picture of this type and because it’s such a simple thing that he’s doing.
dahl even gets the most out of his actors. paul walker, who was amazingly bad in the fast and the furious, comes off as capable and affable. leelee sobieski does a good job in what is possibly the hardest of the three primary roles. and steve zahn nails his performance as instigator, comic sidekick, scared victim and hero. every great picture i can think of has some sense of humor and though this isn’t a great picture, it does stand as a testament to the power of a few well-placed laughs.
the film doesn’t rewrite the book on thrillers, but it is a well done piece of lighter fare for those who want to turn off their brains without stooping to the lowest levels of hollywood teen-schlock. i’ve seen it three times and it’s still good fun.