Footage of the rural road in America, with plenty of medium-long shots and no score, dominates the screen in the 1971 Two-Lane Blacktop, directed by Monte Hellman. A flick about two car nuts who routinely race other street drivers for money, it is so low-key it is practically asleep at the wheel. Neither James Taylor (the singer) nor Dennis Wilson (the Beach Boy) is a good actor as they play the Driver and the Mechanic—no names, please—respectively. But Warren Oates is, and Rudolph Wurlitzer‘s screenplay is provocative and amusing.
Oates plays a man who, though proud of his car, is no longer young and has problems. Reduced to mendacious talk, he is a lost soul, while the Driver and the Mechanic are empty souls. As their girl companion (Laurie Bird) observes, their lives are no “better” than those of the noisy, mating cicadas they hear.
Apropos of Bird’s character, simply called the Girl, everything is a letdown. The Driver tries to retain his relationship with her, such as it is, by murmuring, “Figured we’d go on up to Columbus, Ohio. A man got some parts up there he wants to sell cheap.” But what goes on with these car nuts is cheap, and blandly the Girl replies, “No good.”
Two-Lane Blacktop has nothing new to say, but it can be a strange treat of “white trash” naturalism. If you haven’t been on the rural roads in a while, and you actually miss them, this is your film.