Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Two-Lane-Blacktop-Masters-oFor anyone expecting a car film in the vein of “Vanishing Point,” they’re bound to be ridiculously disappointed. For “Two Lane Blacktop” is much more about the journey and the thrill of being a racer as it is about races. This is not “The Fast and the Furious” that revolves around hot women and fast cars, but more about two journeymen and their young aid who engage in endless travels from town to town in a world ruled by law and order. James Taylor is the Driver a fast talking back dealing con man on the road with his hot rod and his two cohorts who constantly are on the look out for a new challenge. When they reach their destination, they scope out potential rivals, deal them in to a big race, and collect their rewards. On the way the three folks in their car are looking for something: a purpose.

What this purpose is and what this will all circle around to one can only know, but when we meet the trio they’re basically travelers who live out on the open road scraping by on the bare minimum and indulging in their small pleasures life can offer including comfortable motel rooms, hard boiled eggs, and innocent sexual play. They come from seemingly no place at all, are headed absolutely nowhere, and aren’t quite sure where they want to settle down in. They only know their car, their life, and the world around them. And that’s enough for either of them until they tire of the constant thrill that is finding new warriors with rods to bring them down or elevate their skills to a higher level. James Taylor and Dennis Wilson are taciturn hot rodders who don’t garner much of a relationship. There isn’t any witty banter between them, there’s not giant exchanges of dialogue, nor do they have a lot of chemistry, but they’re together because they have a distinct love for the road and what new destinations it holds for them.

Were it not for the hot rod that binds them, odds are they wouldn’t even bother speaking to one another at all. But they’re seeking for a new race and their hope for a new defeat keeps them side by side on a constant straight and narrow road constantly on the verge of breaking the law. They’re aware of this and use that to their advantage setting up little traps for their impending new combatants. When they meet Warren Oates (identified only as GTO), he is a man who is anxious to go about his way in his gorgeous hot rod but can’t resist the lure of their constant taunting. They don’t harass him or even mock him, they instead just follow him around, appearing sporadically where ever he is and allow him to throw down the conquest for them to pick up and run with.

For a film that’s reliant on the backdrop of racing, “Two Lane Blacktop” is a surprisingly subtle and underplayed little coming of age drama that only uses the hot rods as a plot device for a grander scheme of seeking an idea, a way of life, a more complex state of mind that they hope to achieve by surviving through these races that keep them financially secure enough for the next race in the next town for the next unsuspecting sap looking to prove themselves. Oates as GTO is a very darkly comedic character who is his own man in his own world. He picks up hitchhikers constantly merely to have some company and regales them with false tall tales of his life while indulging in country music that he implements as a social tool and as a way to connect to any drifter her comes across.

Their inevitable laying down of the gauntlet gives way to a surprising camaraderie in which the trio sabotage GTO and then suddenly are intent on helping him meet their big race to Washington which will assuredly warrant them big rewards he’s most intimidated to comply with. “Two Lane Blacktop” is not a movie for anyone searching for action and big explosions, instead it’s a journey. An exploration about man and his machine and the life of the drifter. It’s quite an entertaining little gem that few will understand. Very low-key and somewhat underrated, “Two Lane Blacktop” is a rare bit of grindhouse cinema that’s very character oriented and spiritual in the sense of dissecting the racer and his relationship to his machine that grants him shelter, focus, sustenance, and more importantly, a purpose in life.