I’ve been wanting to watch Vanishing Point ever since I saw it listed as an inspiration for Activision’s Interstate ’76, waaay back in ’97. I finally got around to watching it this week, and I’m still sorting out my feelings about it.
(I’m going to spoil the movie now, so if you don’t want to know what happens, stop reading!)
Vanishing Point (1971) is about Kowalski, a loner working as a car deliveryman. At the beginning of the movie he bets his friend/drug dealer that he can get a car to San Francisco in record time. Then Kowalski drives, and drives, and drives. Along the way, he meets lots of weird characters who want to help, stop, rob, or have sex with him. There’s also a (semi-telepathic?) blind DJ who tries to guide him to safety.
Despite the movie poster’s claims (“THE ULTIMATE CAR CHASE MOVIE!”) there’s not that many car chases, and they’re not that exciting. We’re definitely not talking Bullitt here. Mostly, Kowalski drives across the desert really fast.
Kowalski is something of a cipher. We get some glimpses character through some short flashbacks. His girlfriend drowned in a surfing accident. He’s an ex-cop, -soldier, -racer. But we never see the sequence of these events, and how they all tie together.
I won’t say the movie was boring. It was certainly slow-paced and even monotonous at points (“Oh. Another long shot of the car driving across the desert.”) but I think that was intentional. Kowalski’s last-reel suicide is telegraphed from the beginning of the movie (we see everything but the impact at the start).
In the end, Vanishing Point is pretty much a mood piece – you feel sorry for Kowalski but you can’t really empathize with him because you can’t get close enough to him. Still, I’m glad I finally saw it and would recommend seeing it at least once.
I haven’t seen the 1997 remake starring Viggo Mortensen, but I have heard it is awful.
Final note: I realized too late that I had returned the DVD to Netflix without watching the UK cut, which apparently restores some cut scenes. D’oh!