Steve G 🇵🇸’s review published on Letterboxd:
Reminds me of that time when I asked a friend if I could have one of their chips and they gave me the finger.
ITHANKYOU. THE FUN STARTS HERE.
The Hitcher was a lot darker than I remembered it being, especially so when it comes to the fate of Jennifer Jason Leigh. It's one of those films that always feels like it should be a lot funnier than it is because of its daft premise but it really isn't aside from a couple of isolated moments. Obviously director Robert Harmon had done a viewing of Duel before he made this.
He obviously saw the benefits of a road movie thriller / horror film where the villain's grudge against this one guy is seemingly almost completely motiveless. When a motive and reasoning for what he's doing does emerge late on in the film, it's quite a dark revelation in itself. Rutger Hauer isn't just some straightforward psychopath, he's a suicidal man with absolutely nothing to lose. It's quite telling when C. Thomas Howell asks him repeatedly where he's going that he doesn't have an answer, and that he looks genuinely disappointed when Howell doesn't shoot him in the truck. Also:-
Howell: "Why are you doing this to me?"
Hauer: "You're a smart kid, you figure it out."
It makes him a bit different, as a villain, for this sort of film. It has an edge to it that I'm generally not used to seeing in these kinds of films. Some of the police are willing to believe Howell's story to a point, but their patience wears thin with him and they themselves become a threat. To the point where Howell can't trust that they will protect him so he has to go after Hauer himself in a thrilling finale.
Hauer's career has been such that you couldn't confidently come into this one and expect as strong a performance as he gives here. We all love The Rutger, obviously, but most of us would acknowledge that he's never been the most reliable actor for all the good performances he has produced in amongst the crummy ones in bad films. Yet here he's not playing this one for laughs at all - when he's deadly serious like this he really is quite a terrifying and mesmerising screen presence and there's more than a hint of Roy Batty in his performance here.
I wouldn't say without him that The Hitcher would fall apart. Howell is about as good as we could ever reasonably expect him to get and there's Leigh, one of the greatest actors of her generation, completely owning an otherwise identikit spunky female sidekick / love interest role. Plus with the likes of Jeffrey DeMunn and Billy Green Bush knocking around as cops, you're additionally in good hands.
But there's no question that his moody and brooding performance elevates The Hitcher markedly. The fact that he's kept at arm's length by Robert Harmon, who uses him relatively sparingly and never allows him to become a wisecracking cool heel, undoubtedly helps a great deal. It also helps that it starts fast and immediately establishes Hauer as a threat without any big movements.
The Hitcher is a superb film that I think is still misunderstood in some ways, even by myself before I did this welcome rewatch.