Highway To Hell… In A Breadbasket

Kathryn Bigelow + Monty Montgomery’s “The Loveless” (1981) Film Review

Willem Dafoe sits on an vintage motorcycle.
Photo credit: Doyle Smith

Let me start by telling you how exciting this was to come across on, yep you guessed it, Criterion Channel. Kathryn Bigelow’s first feature film (alongside Lynchian producer Monty Montgomery)+ a baby Willem Dafoe in his first credited debut role? Pair that with the fact that it’s an outlaw biker film set in the 1950s South (I love me a good dirty south film), well sign me up. This is no masterpiece. It’s a film full of feelings as opposed to a real strong plotline, but the moving picture would get boring if all we ever had to watch were Michael Bay films, right?

I’m not particularly a huge fan of Kathryn Bigelow’s film portfolio, however I do admire how vastly different each of her films are. I enjoyed “The Hurt Locker” but mostly because I’ve been a big Jeremy Renner fan since “Dahmer”. I also like to get down on characters that are severely more fucked up than I am.

ANYWHO!

The film begins with our biker baby, Vance (Willem Dafoe), on his way to Daytona for a race. He comes across an older woman stranded with a flat tire. He turns around to help her and off the bat we can see and feel the sexual chemistry between them. He looks at her with those dark, piercing eyes of his and she makes that “Well I’ll be”, clutching her pearls and biting her bottom lip look. After fixing her flat, he straight up asks her for money, knabs her wallet, cleans her out, and while she admonishes and tries to fight back, leans into her car, grabs her by the neck and kisses her passionately. He leaves her in a sort of shock, laughing as he mounts his motorcycle (anyone else here particularly love Dafoe’s laugh? Just me? Ok.). What is it about a bad boy that makes us swoon? Why was my knee jerk reaction to this scene to be in awe of the kind of confidence behavior like that must yield? Maybe it’s just me and I’ve got some soul searching to do or therapy sessions to attend. Either way. This beginning scene kind of sets the narrative for the film. Dark desire and a whole lot of entitlement.

Willem Dafoe looks past the camera while sitting in a diner booth.
Photo credit: Doyle Smith

Baby biker makes his way to a classic, dusty, truck stop diner for breakfast while he waits for his fellow biker comrades to join him. He small talks with the young waitress as her boss looks on with disdain. You know the typical older woman wearing a dark lipliner against an orangey-red lipstick… she’s probably a widower. The rest of the baby bikers arrive and bring with them an air of rebelliousness to the diner. Their fearless nature and confidence teeters on arrogance — unsurprising as they are outlaw bikers after all. Important to note here that co-starring alongside our leather-clad Vance is rockabilly legend, Robert Gordon as Davis. Gordon also composed the film — a true jack of all trades.

Robert Gordon rides a motorcycle with a blonde woman on the back, alongside a fellow biker gang member.
Photo credit: Doyle Smith

One of the bikes is in need of repair so the group heads to a shop and Vance meets a teenager with a sick cherry red convertible. Per our previous observation, the sexual tension is off the charts. We listen to Vance’s inner commentary on the film’s events as he and the girl, Telena (Marin Kanter) make their way to a motel. Telena’s abusive father, Tarver (J. Don Ferguson), spots her sick cherry red convertible in the motel parking lot and busts into the room — forcing her to go with him. This small town’s main attractions line one short road, so why she didn’t do a better job of hiding her car — I don’t know. Maybe she wanted to get caught. Vance scoffs and shuts the door, sitting on the edge of the bed. We see his emotion shift as the camera cuts to the mirror in which his reflection shows. There’s something about her but at the end of the day he’s a lawless wanderer and has no time for romance.

“You never can tell on a day like this… things could be goin’ jake one minute, then, presto… before you know it, you’re history.”

As to be somewhat expected, the film comes to a head later in the evening at the local lounge. The townspeople convene with the bikers and drinks flow as tensions rise. The end of our slow and low film isn’t necessarily some grand finale — after reading this review, you shouldn’t expect anything otherwise. Instead we are left with fleeting feelings on what it feels like to be passing through. Whether figuratively or literally. What kind of impact can be made on a place within a short span of time? Or the people you come across?

Willem Dafoe leans over the side of a cherry red convertible.
Photo credit: Doyle Smith

This probably doesn’t really count as a road film like our Wim Wenders Road Movie Trilogy (which can be read by clicking here), but it features a road, some lonely characters, and a mysterious leading man. Good enough for me. If you have a chance, give this film a watch. Solid soundtrack, some deep staring, a rebellious air, and a baby Willem Dafoe.

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Aliya Nicole Al-Balooshi

Aliya Nicole Al-Balooshi

Bahraini/Baloch Audience & Revenue Strategist II, Community a la Camber Creative + independent film fan with a casual writing style & a pocket full of thoughts.