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USA 1972
Directed by
Steven Spielberg
90 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


David Mann (Dennis Weaver, a jobbing actor best known from his extensive work on the small screen) is driving his car across California when he gets involved in a dangerous tag match with a rust-bucket oil tanker. Gradually the action escalates until Mann’s life is at stake.

Steven Spielberg's first film, based on a story in Playboy magazine by sci-fi writer Richard Matheson, started life as a 73m TV movie but proved so popular that it was extended to 90m and given a theatrical release first in Europe, then 10 years later in the US.

With its slim and literally linear story (Weaver is the only human character, his antagonist being the malevolent truck rather than its unseen driver) dramatically it is quite limited and its CGI-free action is relatively low key by today’s standard. Nevertheless, one can understand why it impressed so much back then, with its ratcheting man/Mann-versus-machine premise having a Mad Max (1979) vibe, its pared back narrative having a refreshing leanness and for those so inclined, the fact that with such limited elements Spielberg holds our interest for the full running time. Full credit goes to editor Frank Morriss who knitted the dynamic cat-and-mouse chase into a seamless whole.

The only time the film strikes a problem is in the “time-out” scene when Mann stops at “Chuck’s Café” and we hear his thoughts in Weaver’s voice-over. It is a pity that Spielberg didn’t find a way to represent this visually or at least more economically as it introduces a slightly comedic tone to the proceedings. But then, he’s Spielberg not Bergman.




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