A hitchhiker, a guy in a Cadillac, a sheriff running for election, and a FBI agent. A strange mix of people and for the first half of Switchback a great character study the film spins of these people. The writer and director, Jeb Stuart, creates a story about these four men and for the first hour and even past that, we get to look at these characters, see what they are doing, and get to know how they would react in different situations. The hitchhiker, Lane (Jared Leto) is a former doctor who left his profession to travel west. He meets up with a guy, Bob (Danny Glover), who drives a white Cadillac that has seats upholstered with nude pinups. Bob was a former railroad worker who is now travelling west to return his Cadillac to a friend. These two befriend each other on this trip.
In a Texas city where elections are being held a murder just occurred. The current sheriff Buck Olmstead (R. Lee Ermey) is tasked with solving the case while looking good to the public. Soon arrives a lone FBI agent, Frank La Cross (Dennis Quaid), who helps Buck with the case.
What we find out is that La Cross is working on a serial killer case that follows closely to the murder in Olmstead’s town. But, does La Cross have an ulterior motive for his work in this case? As the movie unfolds we see that either Lane, the hitchhiker, or Bob, the guy in the Cadillac is the serial killer. And the serial killer has a game that he wants to play with La Cross.
Though this sounds like another whodunit mystery film in the vein of SE7EN or Kiss The Girls, it’s not. The killer’s identity is revealed a little after halfway through the film. And from this point the movie becomes a taut thriller.
The performances throughout the film are great. R. Lee Ermey gives the best performance of the film, stealing all the scenes he’s in. (I sat watching Ermey wondering where I’ve seen him before, and if you’re going to wonder the same, I’ve seen him in his memorable role in SE7EN.) Quaid gives a good performance as the tough Frank La Cross who is desperate on the trail of the serial killer. Jared Leto is good as the doctor-hitchhiker. And Glover is the all around happiness-guy of the film. He is the guy that smiles throughout the film and we find trust in him.
The only part of this film that bothered me was the lead up to the end that comes off as somewhat thrown together and feels a bit unbelievable. But, this is not a big deal because the rest of the film is so strong. The film runs a bit over two hours, but at no time did I find myself looking at my watch. This film moves pretty quickly and is very enjoyable.
This is the directorial debut for Jeb Stuart who wrote Die Hard and The Fugitive. And it is a great debut for him. This is a must see film. It is a taut tense thriller that entertains for its running time. The performance of R. Lee Ermey is definitely one to look for.