The Hitcher

Dir: Robert Harmon
Star: Rutger Hauer, C.Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jeffrey DeMunn

Trash City
Top 50 Film
I'm still amused by Roger Ebert's review of this where he wrote, "This movie is diseased and is reprehensible." He seems obsessed by the homoerotic subtext he sees in the relationship between psychotic John Ryder (Hauer) and Jim Halsey (Howell), as the former stalks, torments and confronts his prey, for no real purpose at all. Occasionally, this seems possible, but it feels more like a father-son relationship [it reminds me of the one in Dexter] and that reading is countered by sequences like the one where Ryder snuggles up to Nash (Leigh), gently stroking her arm. Here's an interesting thought: Ryder doesn't actually exist, except as a deranged figment of Halsey's imagination, a persona separated off to blame for the killings Halsey is actually committing. For we never actually see Ryder kill anyone. Certainly, there are some issues with this reading; though not really any more than, say, Fight Club.

This is probably Hauer's best performance ever, totally dominating the screen, in a way rarely seen, to the point that the rest of the cast struggles to keep up, even Leigh, who has done some fine work since. Here, she ends up on the receiving end of some Rutger-abuse, not for the last time in her career (see also Flesh and Blood), taking part in what we like to call the Jennifer Jason Leigh Taffy Pull. Eric Red's script does an excellent job of creating a mythical monster, a modern-day boogeyman more threatening than Jason, Freddy or Michael, simply because he possesses no motive. "Why are you doing this?" begs Jim, and gets the impenetrable response, "Because I want you to stop me." Jim's question actually applies just as much to the ground up and spat out remake twenty years later, which possessed not one ounce of the danger or suspense shown here. If only someone had stopped that...

[March 2009]

The man with no name
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