Vanishing Point (1971)

I know Tarantino would love to take the credit for the popularity and new found interest in “Vanishing Point,” thanks to his repeated references to the movie in his underrated “Death Proof,” but that’s simply presumptuous, considering many people have been singing the praises of “Vanishing Point” for years and years. It’s been deemed as the best car movie ever made, and is considered a pure cult classic, way before Chin McGee mentioned it on celluloid, and that’s a fact. “Vanishing Point” is really nothing but a one hundred minute car chase across country, and I loved every minute of it.

Why? Well, with films like these, you really don’t watch them for the compelling characters, the complex story, or the comedic one-liners. If you want shit like that, go somewhere else. With “Vanishing Point” it’s merely a simplistic story about a man known simply as Kowalski, who is speeding across the country in a White Dodge Challenger. This rod fucking charges through the light and past highways like a bullet, and he’s not intent on stopping for anyone to make his deadline. He dodges police, helicopters, tractors, roadblocks, and every single object you can imagine, because he has to make this deadline. What we do know about Kowalski is told less through dialogue and sub-plots and more through flashbacks. We learn that even though he’s a hell of a driver and possibly a criminal, there’s a reason why he can use a car like a weapon, and holds little regard for the authorities.

Newman’s performance is excellent, and he’s able to take a role that has little to no dialogue, and use it to his advantage. Director Sarafian relies instead on the soul of the film, Cleavon Little, who plays a blind radio DJ for Nevada. Little’s Super Soul is a man who comes to life once he takes on the radio mic, and keeps track of the Challenger’s journey across the country defying everything the authorities can throw at Kowalski. In the process, he also manages to compel the small town he works for, as the town folks begin crowding around his booth waiting for updates on the Challenger’s escape from the law. And as the film goes on, the two almost seem to share a psychic connection with one another, as they bond over the airwaves. “Vanishing Point” has heart, and it has a genuinely electric story that uses its simplicity to pull us into the eyes of Kowalski.

What’s even more interesting is hat he’s not even a psychopath. He never runs anyone over, makes sure never to hurt the officers chasing after him, and even runs a hot rodder off a road and goes to check if the driver is okay. It’s rather fascinating how writer Infante can draw such a compelling and rather three dimensional character with little dialogue, and even less back story, but I was drawn into Kowalski’s mission from minute one, and I was rooting for him. “Vanishing Point” ends like every other rebel’s story, and in spite of it, Sarafian makes an excellent commentary on the time period where nihilism was apart of life. I’d say Tarantino’s endless references in “Death Proof” was pretty apt. “Vanishing Point” is an excellent car chase flick with a great performance by Barry Newman, and Cleavon Little, and fantastic direction from Sarafian. This is worth the watch, even if you didn’t enjoy “Death Proof.”