1971 was a banner year for existential road movies, as Two-Lane Blacktop and Vanishing Point hit theaters within four months of each other, but Two-Lane Blacktop has stood the test of time as the stronger, more compelling picture. Monte Hellman's deliberate pacing and sharp widescreen framings capture the drivers' wanderlust and obsession with speed with a determined casualness that allows us to look past the cars and into the minds of the men who drive them. The screenplay by Rudy Wurlitzer and Will Corry captures the characters' personal and philosophical sides while also getting their tech talk right. As The Driver, James Taylor has the determined gaze, even if he's not much on dialogue, and Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson is quite good as The Mechanic, half-bright until he starts talking about engines. Laurie Bird is both confounding and charming as the chatty hippie that they pick up along the way, but it's Warren Oates who steals the show, giving one of the finest performances of his career as GTO, a brash braggart whose tall tales change depending on who he's talking to. If Two-Lane Blacktop is a sometimes puzzling film that doesn't reveal all its mysteries on first viewing, Oates's superb performance provides the incentive (and all the reward) you'll need to stick it out to the end.
by Mark Deming review