Film Review: Vanishing Point (1971)

Release Date: March 13th, 1971
Directed by: Richard C. Sarafian
Written by: Malcolm Hart, Guillermo Cain, Barry Hall (uncredited)
Music by: Kim Carnes, Delaney, Bonnie & Friends, Pete Carpenter, Mike Post, Jimmy Bowen, Big Mama Thornton, Eve, Mountain, Longbranch Pennywhistle
Cast: Barry Newman, Cleavon Little, Dean Jagger

20th Century Fox, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Hey Kowalski, you out there?” – Super Soul

Vanishing Point is a 1971 action thriller that saw a bit of resurgence in the last decade after it was referenced and the same car was used in the climax of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. I had never seen it until now but it was something that car loving cinephiles have talked about for ages. So, I felt like I needed to get off of my ass and check it out.

Unfortunately, the film didn’t resonate with me the same way it has for many others. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t like it but I thought it was kind of a disjointed mess full of unexplained strangeness that didn’t seem to have much of a point, other than trying to make this more of an art film than a bad ass muscle car flick.

Not that there is anything wrong with a more artistic approach. It just didn’t serve much of a point here, other than to deliberately keep things ambiguous and to leave you guessing. In a way, it feels as if our driver is a visitor in our existence and he somehow transcends to some other phase of existence but ultimately, that’s probably just me overthinking things.

There just doesn’t seem to be enough detail regarding the motivations of characters within this film. No one really acts normal, at least not the important players. Also, random things just kind of happen. Sure, Kowalski, the driver, has his backstory examined but ultimately it isn’t enough to truly understand the decisions he makes throughout the picture. The radio DJ, Super Soul, is a really bizarre guy that paints the driver a hero but we don’t really understand why. We can connect dots but it is still just wild speculation.

Regardless of my issues with the overall narrative and character development of the film, the car stunts are amazing. The film certainly looks great and aged well for a little car movie from 1971. Some of the smaller characters also kept things fairly interesting throughout the picture.

The problem is, other than how cool the car is and some of the stunts, I just don’t see what other people see in this movie. There are other old school car films that are much better: Bullitt, Le MansThe Driver, the original Gone In Sixty Seconds, hell… Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000.

Vanishing Point isn’t a bad movie but I hate to say that it felt pretentious to me. It was certainly too artsy and ambiguous for its own good. Not that an artistic car movie can’t work, Nicholas Winding Refn made pretty close to a masterpiece with DriveVanishing Point just doesn’t have much to sink your teeth into and taste. It felt like a world vastly unexplored from a narrative and emotional standpoint.

But the car bits are still friggin’ cool.

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