Stars – Dennis Christopher, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley, Barbara Barrie, Paul Dooley, Dennis Quaid
Director – Peter Yates
Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
The film opens with four kids who have just graduated high school hanging out in their small town with no particular place to go. They seem rather intent on just whiling away the hours of the rest of their lives. The town of Bloomington Indiana is defined by the sprawling University campus and a rock quarry. There is a huge schism between the college kids and the Cutters as they call the townies. However there is one thing that will snap these kids out of their doldrums. One of the foursome, Dave (Dennis Christopher) is completely obsessed with Italian bicycle riders. That he rides extremely well makes sense but he has taken to affecting an Italian accent, attitude and style of dress. He addresses his parents with all kinds of adopted Italian sounding phrases. His complete devotion to this drives his parents nuts. Paul Dooley as the dad has had enough but has no idea what to do about it. The mom (Barbara Barrie) plays it off as a phase but offers to strangle him in his sleep if that will help. She is so sweet but with a killer deadpan sense of humor.
As we follow these kids around we see one of them Jackie Earl Haley being dropped off to start a new job at a gas station. Right after he gets out of the car he quits before he even starts. He jumps back in the car with his friends amidst rounds of applause. In between the aimless adventures we go on these exceptional bike rides with Dave. He rides like the wind while Italian classical music fills the speakers. Director Peter Yates knows how to move action along. These scenes are exhilarating to watch. When Dave catches up with a truck on the highway he paces himself behind it then pours it on. The driver extends his hand outside the window holding up four fingers then five to indicate his speed: forty then fifty miles an hour! We forget that that is likely impossible and get caught up with his competition with the truck. The driver holds up five fingers, withdraws his hand then returns with one finger up. We grin as we watch him surge past the truck. Dave is lost in the Italian skies that send their sunshine down over him. He’s gonna transcend this town and become a bicycle racing star in Italy.
Steve Tesisch won the Oscar for his screenplay that balances humor and drama, small town attitudes and big time dreams. Apart from the marvelous writing the film has a cast that plays it just right, keeping things from becoming too saccharine. Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern so young in these roles are natural and completely believable. They have their feet on this dusty town ground while Dennis Christopher turns in an inspired performance as the bicycle riding dreamer. He even pretends to be an Italian exchange student to court one of the unreachable coeds at the University. The film builds to the climatic team bicycle race against the University guys that have put them down throughout the picture. The foursome have T shirts that read Cutters. At first this comes off as a taunt to the college kids. But as the Cutters race we can see them no longer feeling trapped in this town but proud of it. They ride right through that defeatist attitude. No this is not Steve McQueen shifting up the gears on his Mustang in Bullit but damn if Peter Yates doesn’t get that same kind of adrenaline rush from both the action and the drama. Breaking Away is a deserved classic in the Coming of Age genre. It sits comfortably alongside Stand by Me, The Breakfast Club, My Girl, Mud, and many others. It was a brilliant conceit to wrap all this growing up around the cock-eyed dreams of a small town kid who wants to ride his way out of town on a bicycle, Italian style.
Video – 1.85:1
The film is in good shape. The exterior shots of Dennis Christopher riding his bicycle around town look terrific. There are times when the colors take on a nice subtlety. Not everything is bright sunshine. The occasional softness takes away from the detail at moments. Some darker scenes are a bit weak. Those are minor issues in an overall very nice looking presentation.
Audio – DTS-HD MA 1.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
The mix is very straight forward. Dialogue is all clear and easy to understand, including Dennis Christopher’s put on accent. Even in the mono format the feeling that the well chosen classical pieces bring to the bicycle riding sequences is sometimes breathtaking.
Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary with Actor Dennis Christopher and film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, Road to Adulthood trailer, Academy Booster trailer, Original Theatrical Trailer, Dennis Christopher’s Fellini Story (audio only)
Dennis Christopher tells a terrific story about stumbling onto a movie set of the great director Fellini. He evens gets a bit part in the film, Roma.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Excellent