Review: ‘Big Rig’

An unsurprisingly united cross-section of American truckers have their eminently quotable say on the state of a profession under siege in jaunty, on-the-road docu "Big Rig."

An unsurprisingly united cross-section of American truckers have their eminently quotable say on the state of a profession under siege in jaunty, on-the-road docu “Big Rig.” Perhaps too laidback and inside-baseball for high-profile arthouse play Stateside, pic consolidates the rep of gifted documaker Doug Pray (“Scratch,” “Hype!” “Red Diaper Baby”) and will trundle confidently to fests, tube, ancillary and offshore distribs.

“Without trucks, America goes dead,” someone says — so why are these long-haul lions “a dyin’ breed out there?” The answer seems to boil down to federal interference in the form of restrictive driving rules: The biggest challenge isn’t dumb drivers or cops,” avers one vet, “but the erosion of rights, traditions and profit margins” that lead to competition among drivers.

Available evidence supports this theory. Burly conspiracy theorist Bear plows a third of his profits into diesel fuel, stoking belief that “this government should be overthrowed.” Another driver, barreling through New Orleans, puts it best: “The day of the independent is gone, and that’s what bothers me. Everybody’s against each other, I gotta do better than you … ” Moments later, he’s commenting on a sloppy driver: “Don’t do that, you idiot. You know not to pull out in front of 80,000 pounds; it’s not smart.”

Yet in the face of adversity, most truckers on view — men and women, white and black, even a transplanted Pole — retain a cynical good humor tempered by down-home wisdom: “You call, we haul,” says one. “You bitch, we unhitch. And if it’s on the map, we’ll haul your crap.”

The profession embraces both the devout and the libertine. The religious Doug, who lost his hand in an industrial accident, advises, “Don’t drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.” Shortly thereafter, a madam at Bella’s Gentlemen’s Club in Welles, Nevada, proudly embraces the knights of the road by proclaiming, “We don’t just  provide sex for ’em, we do feed ’em also.”

Drivers were approached on a hunch at truck stops (115 in all), and if they agreed to be filmed, Pray and sound man Jim Dziura climbed aboard. Pic’s downside is that unsympathetic auds will see a series of gripes delivered in broad Southern accents. Ironically, while this may limit Stateside theatrical play, there’s a proven overseas appetite for such down-home American content.

Per the pic’s Web site, the helmer shot with the new hi-def Panasonic VariCam; on DVD, colors at all corners of the country were rich and deep. Mischievous yet evocative score by Buck 65 (aka Richard Terfry), which includes a fine talking-blues cover of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” would make a toe-tapping standalone roots record.

Big Rig

Production

An Ocule Films production. Produced by Brad Blondheim. Executive producers, Kirt Eftekhar, Randy Wooten. Directed, edited by Doug Pray. Written by Brad Blondheim, Pray.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Pray; music, Buck 65; sound (Dolby Digital), Jim Dziura. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, June 6, 2007. (In SilverDocs, SXSW, Seattle film festivals.) Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Dale Sprouse, Loretta Anderson, Claude Eric Walker Sr., Jessie Blaine, Douglas Gustafson, John Leeper, Jacek Szajna.
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