The Sugarland Express (1974) Directed by Steven Spielberg. With Goldie Hawn and William Atherton.
There are shots and sequences in The Sugarland Expres in which we see the early genius of Steven Speilberg at work. Based on ‘true events’, Goldie Hawn plays Lou Jean, a not-so-laid-back southern gal intent on breaking her husband (William Atherton) out of a Texan correctional facility, so that together they can reunite with your their young son.
The photography is sublime, whether capturing lines of police cars, wide-open sunset skies or those small, incidental moments of humanity that Spielberg infuses – the film is held aloft by the innovation of its young director.
Away from the visuals, it is a skewed depiction of a mother’s love. A crazed kind of love which operates beyond the borders of rationality, irrespective of the cost to others. Lou Jean can be judged two ways – one way she’s a desperate mother, cruelly and unjustly separated from her child, doing whatever she can to get him back, because that’s her moral right…right!? Or, she’s a selfish idiot, risking other people’s lives because of her own poor life choices, as if the world owes her a favour. I’m leaning heavily towards the latter.
In a sense, you could rename the movie Dumb and Dumber: The Early Years as our bumbling pair stumble from one crisis to the next, almost oblivious to the trail of chaos in their rear-view mirror. There is good humour, amid a sense that clouds are gathering for a final act reckoning.
Although it begins with a playful road-movie demeanour, the overall tone is more Vanishing Point than Smokey and the Bandit. The script isn’t the finest that Spielberg has had to work with, but it does have things to say about some of the crazier aspects of the society it depicts – the gun-toting locals, the gun-toting police, and yes, the gun-toting perpetrators. In amongst it, you’re never quite sure who to root for…but you suspect that’s partly the point. 3.5/5