Faster, Faster: “The Wages of Fear” and “Speed”
Both The Wages of Fear and Speed push the audience to the brink of anxiety with transports rigged to blow at any moment. In Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, Mario (Yves Montand) and his friends must transport highly explosive nitroglycerine across South America to stop a fire in a lucrative oil field — any bump in the road could make the very sensitive nitroglycerine explode. In Speed, Officer Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) needs to keep a city bus loaded with explosives traveling faster than 50 miles an hour or it will go boom.
There is contrasting tension between the two movies. In Clouzot’s movie, the trucks move at a snail’s pace with every bump in the road adding tension, whereas in Speed, Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock) barrels down the highway, unable to stop or even slow the bus.
Anyone would be crazy to board that bus in Speed or drive those trucks in The Wages of Fear, but the motivations are fairly well fleshed out in both movies. Stuck without money, Mario must take the risk because he has no other option. The movie makes a strong comment on the insignificance of the worker when compared with the great demand for oil.
Although there are no subtitles for this YouTube clip, this scene is very important. Soaked in oil, Charles Vanel’s character, M. Jo, nearly drowns in a pool of crude. Rather than risking the truck getting stuck in the mud — and therefore stopping the shipment of nitroglycerin to the oil field — Montand closes his eyes and literally runs over Vanel’s character. Oil is significant — human life is not.
In Speed, Reeves’ Officer Traven breaks every rule in the book, and is advised by his best friend on the police force that his luck will run out one day. Like the bus plowing through everything in its path, Traven is a force of nature, and the intense action and drama of the plot draws him toward Annie Porter — regardless of the fact that they have nothing in common and barely talk. Listen to Keanu describe their relationship off-screen…
What the fuck is he talking about? Springtime? Twice during the movie, Traven and Porter talk about how relationships borne under intense stress never work, but finally they agree that sex will suffice. Traven didn’t have to jump on that bus, but he felt compelled to, and his love of action and adrenaline brought him to fall for Porter when they both are against the odds. Speed is meant to be fun, but it also touches on what compels cops to do their jobs: they are all adrenaline junkies.
Speed is better than you remember it. The script is crap, but the idea is novel. Also, it’s directed by cinematographer Jan De Bont and has a surprisingly good look. The Wages of Fear, however,is a classic that must be seen — with or without Keanu and Sandra.