Michael Douglas stars as a man who has finally lost his patience with society's numerous minor annoyances. Stuck in a traffic jam on a sweltering summer day, he finally decides he's had enough and gets out of his car to walk home. What follows is a peculiar rampage, by turns terrifying and hilarious, as we see him deal with aggressive gang members, unhelpful fast food restaurant staff, and road maintenance bureaucracy. Throughout the film there is the parallel story of Prendergast (Robert Duvall), a soon-to-retire police officer who is also dealing with his own pressures. He is determined to track down the man causing havoc across the city.
Douglas gives a great central performance as the stressed out worker who is just trying to get home but is continually frustrated by almost everyone he meets. It is an unusual mix of comedy and terror and succeeds on both fronts. There are a number of scenes that are laugh out loud funny, such as his run in with two elderly golfers, or using a bazooka for the first time. But when it wants to do serious drama, such as Douglas's calls to his estranged wife, or the climactic showdown, it pulls this off too, creating genuine tension. The entire film is an exercise is building tension and from the first moment to the last you are not sure what is going to happen. I enjoyed the semi-comic hints early on in the film, where Prendergast is continually reading or hearing about officers being shot or killed on their final day. While it raises a wry smile, it also provokes a sense of unease as it seems the film is taunting you with what may happen later. The direction does a fantastic job of showing you what it is like to be at breaking point. I would never say that you are quite on board with Douglas's mission, but his irritation at what he sees around him is perfectly understandable. The opening scene in particular sets up the whole film perfectly, as you can feel the heat, the stress, the pressure getting to him as he sits in the heat.
The film is an exploration of anger and essentially shows you everything from minor to major examples of hate, from low level crime, through to hints of Nazism. In this way it is a much smarter satire than might be apparent from the more outrageous scenes. There are secondary themes about masculinity, and the treatment of men in society, domestic violence, racism and more, all combined to give a fairly rounded depiction of the worst aspects modern life. The central character is a man pushed to breaking point by a society that doesn't value its citizens, and one that seems to be founded on aggression and selfishness. A fantastic film that is well worth watching.