Film Review: The Sugarland Express

Updated on January 15, 2018
Film Frenzy profile image

Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.

Background

In 1974, Steven Spielberg released The Sugarland Express, based on the real-life incident perpetrated by Ila Fae Holiday and Robert Dent in 1969. Starring Goldie Hawn, William Atherton, Ben Johnson, Michael Sacks, Gregory Walcott, Steve Kanaly, and Louise Latham, the film grossed $12.8 million at the box office.

Synopsis

Lou Jean Poplin, a petty criminal two weeks out of jail, breaks her husband Clovis out of a minimum-security facility. In spite of Clovis only having four months left on his sentence, Lou Jean insists on breaking him out as the government has put their two-year-old son in foster care and she wants to take him back.

Review

As Spielberg’s theatrical directorial debut, The Sugarland Express is a decent film. It’s a film with the knowledge of how bizarre its subject matter is and treats it thusly. The idea cooked up by Lou Jean to break her husband out of a minimum-security facility four months before he’s set to be released simply to regain control of her child is something so unusual it could only be thought of in real life. The absurdity following the two of them on their low-speed chase with their kidnapped officer in tow is fascinating to follow, from Clovis threatening to shoot an outhouse in order to make sure it’s not occupied by an officer to said officer hoping to act as mediator when the two of them start having an argument. The scenes setting up the plot are good too, especially the old man who insists on driving 25 mph on an open highway.

As characters, Lou Jean and Clovis are interesting in their own right, considering the film works to deconstruct the type of people who would go on the run from police as a rogue couple. In its query of what kind of couple would do such a thing and expect to get away with it, the film delivers its audience the answer of those who aren’t particularly smart people. Yet, Clovis does come off as smarter than Lou Jean, if not much. When the two of them have temporarily shaken the police caravan, they take refuge at a drive in and watch a Looney Toons cartoon. She enjoys it and he watches the Coyote fail at his attempts to catch the Road Runner and makes the connection between their plights. His face during the scene shows he identifies with and sees their journey is doomed. Furthermore, Patrolman Maxwell Slide has a humorous character arc. Despite him maintaining a calm demeanor for the entire film, he begins admonishing Lou Jean and Clovis for their actions to helping them hotwire a car and pointing out the trap the police have laid for them.

The acting within the film is pretty good, too. Hawn is able to come across as an unhinged mother, clearly not thinking straight in the wake of losing her child, both in her dialogue and body language. She does this well from her first scenes, going from faking anger at Clovis to tricking him into the restroom where she harangues him into making an escape attempt. At the same time, Atherton is believable as someone unable to believe what is happening in front of him, but goes with it anyway. In the aforementioned scene depicting the two of them watching the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon, his facial expression is entirely believable when the character is making said connection. All the other actors in the film give good performances as well, including Sacks as the patrolman the duo kidnap. The character continuously maintains a calm and stoic demeanor as he’s taken for a ride by Lou Jean and Clovis and Sacks presents this in an authentic way.

Nevertheless, the pacing leaves a lot to be desired. The film’s slow police chase throughout its runtime does not help in providing the necessary flow. Many times, it feels as if it’s dragging along, waiting to come to the next important scene. The time the car drives through a crowd of people who have been waiting for their arrival is one good example. Running just shy of two hours, the film could have lost somewhere between 20 minutes to half an hour without losing anything necessary.

3 stars for The Sugarland Express

Awards & Recognitions

bold indicates reception of award/recognition

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA – Saturn Awards

  • Best DVD/Blu-Ray Collection (As part of the “Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection.”)

Cannes Film Festival

  • Best Screenplay
  • Palme d’Or

Writers Guild of America, USA Awards

  • Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://reelrundown.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)