We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
It’s dumb thing to do, but they do it anyway. They’re both only 25, but they’ve served time, and now the state has taken away their two-year-old boy and given him to a foster family. So she helps him break out of jail, and then they hijack a highway patrol car (complete with highway patrolman) and lead a parade across Texas in an attempt to get the kid back.
That’s the story of “The Sugarland Express,” Steven Spielberg’s first theatrical feature, and, although it’s based on a real incident, like so many things in Texas, it seems like a fantasy anyway. The actual event took place in 1969, and the young couple involved got a lot of sympathy from the folks along their route. Spielberg uses the story to comment on the ways Americans have of turning events into happenings.
The young couple should know, of course, that they can’t hope to get away with kidnapping a policeman. The husband does know, sort of, but he’s half-scared of his wife and would do almost anything to keep her quiet. The wife, as played with a brilliant vapidity by Goldie Hawn, lives in the moment. No matter that they’re being trailed by something like 200 police cars; she cleans a gas station out of trading stamps and then leafs through the catalog to see how many books it’ll take to get a bed for her boy.
The whole kidnapping turns into some kind of public relations event. The chase is led by a decent man (Ben Johnson) who has never killed anyone in 18 years on the force and would like to preserve his record. But hot on his heels are literally hundreds of others: local, county and state cops, freelance amateurs, even a couple of troopers who came over from Louisiana for the fun. And TV news mobile units infiltrate the caravan at every opportunity.