So, we’ve ran quite a few of these ‘best movie’ articles and, in our hearts, they are all the best movie ever. Why pick when they are all equally strong and wonderful? It’s films like these that make us want to write about ‘80s movies in general. But if you put a gun to my head right now and make me pick a best movie ever, it’s going to have to be Repo Man.
The film stars Emilio Estevez as Otto, a young suburban punk growing up in the US hardcore punk scene. Full of attitude and not much else, he loses his job and his girlfriend in quick succession but ends up getting recruited by Bud (played by Harry Dean Stanton) as a repo man (a repossessor of cars where the owners haven’t kept up their payments).
From this point the film follows a few separate threads. We see Otto’s progression as a repo man and his interactions with his eccentric band of co-workers, the descent into crime of his old punk mates and then there is J. Frank Parnell. This radiation-addled old man is driving around in a Chevy Malibu that has a nasty habit of vapourising people. That’s because its trunk is stuffed with dead aliens and a shadowy government agency is looking for it too.
Repo Man was writer-director Alex Cox’s first feature film and it’s a remarkable piece of work. Essentially a sci-fi car movie with punk rock sensibilities, Repo Man is dripping in alternative Americana. It’s quintessentially an LA film but with a humanity that comes from Alex Cox’s gritty northern English upbringing and while the budget was low and many of the actors unproven, Repo Man is one of those rare films where everything matters and adds to the film. Nothing is wasted. That’s why it’s the best.
1. Harry Dean Stanton. While the cast was a mix of first-time actors and veterans, Harry Dean Stanton came to the role with over 200 appearances on his resumé and you can appreciate the quality as he brings a down-trodden weariness to the role of Bud, the long-time repo man who teaches Otto the ropes.
From rants about poor people (“Credit is a sacred trust, it’s what our free society is founded on. Do you think they give a damn about their bills in Russia? I said, do you think they give a damn about their bills in Russia?”), communists (“I don’t want no commies in my car. No Christians either.”) and the coming economic collapse to random acts of violence and a few snorts of coke, Bud is the true star of the show and Harry is the greatest of all time.
“Only an asshole gets killed for a car.”
2. Otto. As the titular Repo Man, Emilio Estevez is perfectly cast as a smart arse, authority-hating punk. He’s not the most likeable character. He’s moody, arrogant and difficult to be around but his detachment from the rat race generally makes him perfectly suited to being a Repo Man in training.
We miss ‘80s Emilio. He was great in this and did some sterling work as Billy The Kid in the two Young Guns movies (the first of which definitely needs to get rewatched pretty soon).
Leila: Otto, don’t go! What about our relationship?
Otto Maddox: What?
Leila: What about our relationship?
Otto Maddox: Fuck that!
3. The gang. As Otto makes his way up in the world of car repossession, his old punk friends – Archie, Duke and Debbie – have their own storyline going on. Now, it doesn’t really go anywhere. They steal some cars and some prescription meds (most of which they drop) and hold up a convenience store a couple of times but every scene they are in is gold.
Where Archie is the dummy and Debbie is the manipulative love interest, the star is Duke played by Dick Rude. This fake tough guy is full of false bravado.
“Let’s go do some crimes. Let’s go get sushi and not pay.”
This is best exemplified during a scene where him and some of the guys (Bud, Lite and Miller – you seeing a pattern there?) take a revenge road trip to beat up Otto’s former boss. Oly spends the whole scene telling a joke while the rest of the repo men have an entirely different conversation.
And besides, they’re all out to fucking lunch.
5. Lite. Where Bud follows his self-imposed Repo Code, Lite is a lot more laid back about the rules and generally spends his time breaking into cars, shooting blanks at people and tormenting women with live animals. He has plenty of moments where he shines.
From talking about music (“You into music? Listen to this. I was into these dudes before anyone They wanted me to manage them. I called bullshit on that. Managing a pop group ain’t no job for a real man.”) to talking about the job (“I walk into someone’s place of work, they shit scared. They know I’m not a cop, think I’ve come to kill ’em. And I would. I’ll kill anybody who crosses me. Know what I mean?”) Lite has plenty to say on any subject.
So much so that he also turned up on this stunning track from the soundtrack.
Think your girl loves you? Guess again.
6. Miller. He may be more than a tad burned out but this mechanic/philosopher seems to know more than he’s letting on. He doesn’t speak much but when he does, it’s always gold. He can be seen talking about aliens or performing healing rituals on Otto (after he gets beaten up by band) but he’s full of sage advice.
“A lot o’ people don’t realize what’s really going on. They view life as a bunch o’ unconnected incidents ‘n things. They don’t realize that there’s this, like, lattice o’ coincidence that lays on top o’ everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you’re thinkin’ about a plate o’ shrimp. Suddenly someone’ll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o’ shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin’ for one, either. It’s all part of a cosmic unconciousness.”
7. J. Frank Parnell. J’s story is barely told. We get snippets from the man himself. He’s the driver of the Chevy Malibu that all the repo men are chasing. In the trunk are the four dead aliens that he’s smuggling but the reasons why aren’t certain. He explains it to Otto but at this point we realise he’s full of radiation and has already had a lobotomy after being overcome with guilt after the working on the neutron bomb (“Eyes melt! Skin explodes! Everybody dead!”).
We love him though. He’s super weird (especially his glasses which have one tinted lens and one normal lens) and a bit confused but he’s got a mean streak, allowing anyone who gets in his way to look in the trunk of the car. An action that causes the dead aliens to vapourise you.
“You ever feel as if your mind had started to erode?”
8. Plettschner. As the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation’s security guard, this out-of-shape rent-a-cop doesn’t get much respect from the other guys. Seemingly unable to do anything except drink coffee and sit around, he’s not exactly useful but after Otto says ‘fuck you’ to him, his rant is legendary.
Plettschner: Don’t you say fuck you to me! Don’t you know who I am?
Otto: Yeah, you’re Plettschner.
Plettschner: You’re fuckin’ right I’m Plettschner! Otto Plettschner! Three times decorated in two world wars! I was killing people while you were still swimming around in your father’s balls! You little scumbag! I worked five years in a slaughterhouse, and ten years as a prison guard in Attica!
Otto: So what?
Plettschner: So what? So never say fuck you to me! Because you haven’t earned the right yet!
9. The TV version. For me, one of the most telling aspects to the Repo Man legend is the edited-for-TV version of the film. Director Alex Cox edited it himself, adding two fun scenes (one where Bud smashes up a payphone and another where him and Otto repossess a car) and correcting some minor mistakes. He also had all the swear words redubbed.
You don’t need ‘flip you, melon farmer!’ explained to you and while we hate censorship, this version of the film is as legendary as the theatrical cut. If not more so!
10. The soundtrack. Hands down, Repo Man’s soundtrack is the best there has ever been. With the film set in LA, the music is a melting pot of hardcore punk influences (with iconic tracks by Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag and Circle Jerks) and latino music (with El Clavo Y El Cruz and Le Hombre Secreto, two fantastic songs by The Plugz).
You also have the fantastic title track by Iggy Pop and the incomparable greatness of Pablo Picasso by Burning Sensations.
Best of all though is the film’s closing instrumental. Reel Ten (again by The Plugz) is, without a doubt, the greatest piece of music ever written. While Repo Man may be a very quirky tale, the emotional impact of the ending is undeniable and it’s really just because of this music and a luminous car.
To be honest, this list could have just been the whole script bulletpointed. As we said before, Repo Man has that no fat punk sensibility stamped all over it. Nothing is wasted here. Even if some of the stories don’t particularly impact on the overall arc, everything is there for a reason. That reason is mainly just to make Repo Man the absolute best film there has ever been.