If it weren’t for Jodie Foster’s involvement, Backtrack might be just another standard erotic thriller with a twist, but because she’s in it and made it between her two Oscar-winning Best Actress films The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs, the film becomes a real curiosity because of how her feminist character is transformed by an obsessive antagonist / protagonist creep, and with Dennis Hopper also directing the film, the entire endeavor has a very unusual vibe to it that I was never comfortable with.
A woman witnesses two murders by the mob and a hitman is hired to kill her, but instead of doing his job, he becomes obsessed and falls in love with her.
Anne Benton (Jodie Foster) is a rising star in the modern art world. While she’s driving on the freeway, she gets a flat tire, and she’s forced to walk on the shoulder of the highway, and when she ends up walking into an industrial part of the freeway near a gas station, she witnesses a shocking and horrifying pair of murders done by a mob boss (played by an unbilled Joe Pesci). At first, she’s not noticed, but as she scrambles to get away, the mobsters are stunned when they realize that she’s a witness, and when they find her car on the side of the road, they know exactly who she is and where she lives, but by then she’s already made it to the police station. The detective assigned to her case (played by an underused Fred Ward) is amazed that Anne witnessed the very mob boss he’s been after for years commit murder, and so the plan is for her to go into a witness relocation program, but Anne is also smart enough to realize that the mob has a spy working with the police, and so she doesn’t trust anyone. She flees the witness program and goes on the lam with some cash and tries to restart her life and becomes an ad executive, but the cunning hitman (played by Dennis Hopper, who also directed) hired to kill her is savvy to her artistic style and follows the trail of advertisements she has created for the cosmetic company she works for, and he finds her across the country. But instead of killing her like he’s supposed to, the hitman – named Milo – has spent a great deal of time studying her art, poring over her belongings in her apartment, and obsessing over her, and instead of killing her when he has the chance, he ends up falling into a deep, obsessive love with her. With the mob becoming impatient with Milo’s methods, they send another assassin to eliminate Anne, but Milo ends up protecting her and kills the other hitman instead! When Milo makes himself known to her, he gives her a choice: He can kill her right then and there … or he will spare her and she will “belong” to him forever. She takes the latter option, and what follows is the complete breakdown of Anne’s beliefs as she must become Milo’s lover and companion as they take it on the lam to Mexico where he has a secret hideout. When the mob eventually catches up to them, Anne has completely become submissive and surrendered to Milo’s leadership, and when the killers come calling, they team up to take on the mob together.
If it weren’t for Jodie Foster’s involvement, Backtrack might be just another standard erotic thriller with a twist, but because she’s in it and made it between her two Oscar-winning Best Actress films The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs, the film becomes a real curiosity because of how her feminist character is transformed by an obsessive antagonist / protagonist creep, and with Dennis Hopper also directing the film, the entire endeavor has a very unusual vibe to it that I was never comfortable with. The movie has a nutty approach to love and sex, and there are scenes with Hopper demanding Foster get undressed or dressed in front of him, and then he puts his paws and lips all over her body, but Foster seemed to enjoy the material because she never gave the impression otherwise … but then again, she’s a great actress, so where does that leave the audience? Besides having a weird, cult movie vibe to it, the script allows for some unusual character developments, and since the film was written by two women – Rachel Kronstadt Mann and Ann Louise Bardach – I’ll chalk the chauvinistic, voyeuristic inclinations to Hopper’s style. Foster appears nude in a completely gratuitous shower scene, and there are some awkward sexual encounters, but it all serves the movie in a very strange way. Charlie Sheen, Dean Stockwell, John Turturo, Vincent Price, Bob Dylan, and more big names show up in small roles. Two versions exist. The shorter version runs 100 minutes and is called Catchfire, and the director’s cut is 116 minutes.
Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray of Backtrack contains both versions of the film, and comes with a new audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox (who has a funny cameo in the movie) and an actress who has a tiny role in the movie. The high definition transfer looks solid. This is the first time the movie has been available on high definition, and the first time the director’s cut has been on disc.