This DVD includes BOTH the 97-minute U.S. print typically seen on cable and video AND the 105-minute U.K. version which includes a couple of flashbacks featuring Charlotte Rampling that for some reason were completely excised for U.S. release. The excised scenes add just a tad more insight into Kowalski's character; while not essential to the whole plot (such as it is), these scenes ARE interesting and definitely will be appreciated by hardcore fans of the film. Kudos to 20th Century Fox for making available both versions. Being a real fan of the era that this movie was shot in, it's a kick to hear director Richard C. Sarafian's commentary track. Highly recommended!
The story of the main character, an auto delivery driver named Kowalski unfolds as he takes delivery of a white '70 Dodge Challenger which is as he puts it `souped up to 160' and proceeds to drive it from Denver to San Francisco. His plan, however is to do this in 15 hours to win a bet. As Kowalski makes his journey his life is revealed to us through flashbacks and recollections which are usually triggered by what is currently happening to him in real time. Through these the viewer learns that despite his apparent lawless behavior, Kowalski is a man of good character.
It is this good character, sense of duty and strong moral code that led to Kowalski's fallout with the establishment. He had been a decorated war hero and was honorably discharged from the military. A few years later, he was a decorated policeman. However, when he saw his police partner behaving in an unsavory fashion, he reacted. His reward was to be dishonorably discharged from the police force. This ultimately led Kowalski down the path to where we are introduced to him.
One of the big things that drew me into this movie is that it doesn't hand you the explanations on a silver platter. Instead it allows you to think about it and draw your own conclusions long after you've seen it. Some reviewers on IMDB have already done a great job of touching on the philosophies of freedom and individualism prevalent in this movie, so I won't waste the time trying to top those. I'll add that I feel this is a type of an expressionist film. Kowalski is kind of an `Everyman' who is on a journey to find his place in the grand scheme of things. Along his path he encounters various characters that watch over him and help him along, but there are also those who wish to shut him down. Whether you think the conclusion of Kowalski's journey is successful or not is up to you.
Another big plus is the realism in the driving scenes, where the drivers are actually driving their machines and occasionally things happen like tires going flat or the car needs fuel. Most modern car chase sequences leave me wanting with all of the computer generated car moves and general lack of realism. I know they sometimes got it wrong back then too, doing things like obviously speeding the film up. In this one though, they got it right. The driving here brings us into that realm of manhandling 4000 lbs. of American Iron, in all the glory of big-block V8 roar, screaming smoking tires, and hands grappling with the steering wheel.
Another thing that's cool to me about this type of movie is the appearance of the car. At the beginning, the car is resplendent in gleaming chrome and white paint. As the story moves along, the car gradually gets a more dusty battered countenance. I won't spoil the end, but those who've seen it know.
The final things that tie this whole thing together are the soundtrack and scenery. They seem to go hand in hand, from the upbeat rock & roll as Kowalski starts out to the stirring guitar strains during the thoughtful moments. I also cannot say enough about the scenery, which really draws the viewer in. It ranges from the mountains of Colorado, across Utah and into the searing Nevada desert.
In closing, I'll say that this is one of my favorite movies. It won't be understood by everyone, but those of us who fantasize about getting in a classic car and blasting down an open two-lane highway devoid of SUV's, sport sedans and minivans will likely get it.