Written by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Munich), The Nickel Ride follows mob “key man” Cooper (Jason Miller) as he slowly realizes his services are no longer needed. Cooper is in charge of securing storage spaces for the mob to hide their hot contraband. He’s working on a deal that will gain the mob a large of row storage spaces near a railroad station, but he can’t seem to seal the deal. In the past Cooper’s been able to grease the palms of the appropriate cops, but even they’re acting a little reserved towards good ol’ Cooper. He can’t seem to get a sit down with his boss, O’Neal, and when he’s asked to show the ropes to new guy named Turner (Bo Hopkins), a brazen cowboy with a motormouth, Cooper begins spiraling into paranoia.
Jason Miller (The Exorcist) delivers a powerfully understated performance. His dialogue is economical while the way he carries himself is what really shows the growing fear and paranoia in him. His girl, played by Linda Haynes (Rolling Thunder), is a loving, trusting woman who reaches her breaking point during Cooper’s spiral. As the smart-mouthed cowboy Turner, Bo Hopkins (The Wild Bunch) is terrifying. He’s the smile first and shoot you later kind of scumbag.
This is one grim beast – fatalistic noir at its best. From Cooper’s dilapidated neighborhood, to the local bar where he’s a celebrity, to the mountain retreat where Cooper and his girl flee, there’s a creeping death that slowly builds up from the first frame to the credits. The film is steeped in realism and the pace is slow, which may turn off casual viewers.
The cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner) is stunning at times in its use of sparse lighting. The bleakness of it all adds great weight to the tension and the noose slipping around Cooper’s neck. This is a superior crime drama that would fit perfectly on the shelves next to other bummers like Mickey and Nicky and The Friends of Eddie Coyle.