Jackie Earle Haley, Daniel Stern, Dennis Christopher, and Dennis Quaid star in BREAKING AWAY, directed by Peter Yates for 20th Century Fox.

Breaking Away (1979, Peter Yates)

For a “traditional” underdog story, Breaking Away is exceeding complex. It opens with Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley; neither Steve Tesich’s script nor Yates’s direction emphasizes any over another. Actually, Quaid’s loudmouth gets the most emphasis.

Then the film introduces Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley as Christopher’s parents and it becomes clear Away will be focused around him. Besides Christopher, only Haley gets any time away from the group (though the group occasionally appears independent of Christopher). I haven’t gotten to how Tesich introduces both major challenges in the film well into its second act.

Meanwhile, there’s Yates’s direction, which is focused on the friendship but also the quietness of the town they live in. Cynthia Scheider’s editing and the sound design are major stars in the picture, especially once the bicycle racing gets more important.

But wait, I forgot to mention Dooley and Barrie have a story independent of Christopher. They orbit him and his friends’s arc, occasionally popping in, but Away is more like seven stories in one. Yates and Tesich show glimpses of the secondary ones; if they’d given them all emphasis, it’d probably run seven hours.

All the acting is outstanding, though Stern has the least to do of the primaries. Quaid and Haley have the hardest jobs; Haley’s the better of the two, but both excel. Christopher’s fantastic.

Dooley and Barrie are wonderful.

Hart Bochner’s good. Robyn Douglass’s amazing in a subtly intricate role.

It’s an outstanding film all around.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Peter Yates; written by Steve Tesich; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Cynthia Scheider; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dennis Christopher (Dave Stoller), Dennis Quaid (Mike), Daniel Stern (Cyril), Jackie Earle Haley (Moocher), Barbara Barrie (Evelyn Stoller), Paul Dooley (Ray Stoller), Robyn Douglass (Katherine), Hart Bochner (Rod), Amy Wright (Nancy) and John Ashton (Mike’s Brother).

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