Bets are brutal when we gamble on ourselves. Vanishing Point portrays that system as madness, but with the right cunning and enough steel, people can prevail. This calm and quiet open has tension underscoring it. As the bulldozer pushes forth through the barren wastes, the lack of music and focus on the metallic clangs and alarm bells cutting through the silence suggest something, somewhere, is about to go wrong. How long can we hold to the inevitability of a bad crash or cruising, crushing blow to the leading man or those around him? Director Richard C. Sarafian pushes forth intending to hold out for as long as he can, but peppers in moments of surprise, suspense and sufficient, high-speed thrills.
Those moments do not last all that long. Before we know it, those slick and subtle chase sequences, the unmoving silence of the world around the Dodge Challenger, is scrapped. Banjo music bursts through the soundtrack. We are one “yeehaw” away from a head-first collision with Smokey and the Bandit. We do not fumble our way so far down that road, but it is enough to bring up a lingering taste of what Vanishing Point could have been. Its story should be of no real issue, but Vanishing Point is not set on a simple story of a man trying to fight against time itself. Its notoriety as a rolling news story brings out some solid criticisms of the media cycle. As the entertainment fades, so too do the crowds who clamoured for a view of a man on the move.
“You can beat the road, you can beat the clock, but you can’t beat the desert. You just cannot.” says one of two radio operators. They are the voice of reason as they realise Kowalski (Barry Newman) is roaring through the desert. He is tired, isolated and baking in the noonday sun, but that does not stop him. Those cuts to colder times in the past, those snow-clad moments of passion make for nice, lingering realisations not just of a life passed by, but one worth returning to. Kowalski, it would appear, is from the background of playing by his own rules, despite being a former officer of the law. There is something about that odd little trope that works so well for the action genre. Vanishing Point presents a former man of typical authority and respect as someone who has crossed the edge. He seeks the edge, and only those that go over know how it feels. He wishes to be one of them.
Damn good cars and a constant, delicate layer of dread hanging over protagonist and automobile, Vanishing Point has all the thrills and chills needed of a fast-paced, car-based action flick. It is grotty and gritty, its characters come from the rural, working streets where life is tough but the people are tougher. That is touched upon so extremely well by Sarafin’s direction, and the cutting, clear dialogue he provides these characters. Vanishing Point is made up mostly of yells, soundtrack and screeching tires on dangerous roads. As that Dodge Challenger roars across the roads, there is a real sense of danger and vibrancy from the characters that litter the small, enclosed surroundings. It adds to the depraved attitudes of all around.