Spending an extended period of time with another individual is something a lot of us sensible people avoid like the plague we are certain everyone else is carrying. Debilitating germ phobias aside, it’s an established fact that long journeys can be very difficult when saddled with a less than desirable companion. To ride with somebody who is worth a damn, however, is quite the treat, and worth recognizing if only to instruct others on how to carry themselves on trips lasting more than a few days. Ben Affleck’s new directorial effort, Argo, is opening in limited release next month, and details a C.I.A. fixer’s attempts to get Americans out of Iran during that country’s 1979 Revolution. Buzz has been building over the film, and Affleck’s performance as a phony movie maker whose real agenda is to smuggle Americans out of the volatile area. It seemed as good a time as any to rank the Top 10 Cinematic Travelling Companions, for Affleck’s character, though not on this list now, may well deserve to be.
Thus, to make it into the ranking, a movie companion must have demonstrated invaluable qualities as it concerned their company. Note, however, that the character must have engaged in a trip that was just that: an outing from the established point of origin toward another definable spot at least one hundred miles away, that trip extending over a period of at least one week (thus, moving across town with a new roomy is not a “trip”). The companion in question must also have demonstrated qualities above and beyond simply keeping their mouth shut for more than a couple of hours, providing the possibility of either physical security, intellectual stimulation, fiscal rewards (or even all three!). Because of this, Bill S. Preston Esq. failed to make the cut, for while he did get his hands on some jail keys and his mom was indeed hot, he failed to demonstrate any truly effective ass-kicking techniques. I also had to toss out Statham’s Transporter dude, for while the guy could drive and did kick some serious ass, it was very difficult for me to take that movie seriously in any way shape or form. That leaves us with…
10.) Luke Edwards’ “Jimmy” from The Wizard -
I’m throwing “Jimmy” into the conversation largely for nostalgic reasons, for there was little more that I felt I could aspire to between the ages of 9 & 12 than what Fred Savage’s companion was throwing around in this movie. True, Savage did also run into a girl who seemed to have a knack for playing craps, but while that pretty much seals the deal for me these days, back when the NES reigned supreme amongst gaming consoles, the idea of having the Wizard with you seemed paramount to all other things in life. Not only could this kid unlock all the most difficult and wicked levels withheld from average pockets sporting a 4-6 quarter base, he was a veritable goldmine in the most epic possible way. Taking this movie’s word for it there was a back-alley Nintendo hustling scene to be tapped into if balls and an electronic Rain Man were bountiful. And that was it: pure nirvana. As a pre-teen, I could scarcely conceive of the bliss involved in a life without parents, school, lawyers, or the Feds: all that remained but junk food, gaming, and glory. With the advent of X-Box Live this dream was made a reality for many of us, but back in the 8-bit dark ages, we could only watch this movie, and dare to dream.
9.) Patricia Arquette’s “Alabama Worley” from True Romance -
Clarence’s wife in this film was that most elusive of creatures: a sexy, horny, loyal, street-smart woman with no issues whatsoever concerning occasional fractures of the law for the sake of her man. When Clarence (Christian Slater) informed Alabama (Patricia Arquette) that he’d just killed her former pimp because he couldn’t stand the thought of the filthy creature walking the same planet as him, she promptly lathered him in kisses and lauded him for the “romantic” gesture. And while I don’t support the use or transport of the stuff, you have to tip your hat to a woman who would agree to help steal a suitcase full of cocaine from the mob after just one day of marriage. She never complained during the entire trip, and faithfully backed every one of her husband’s decisions. In probably her finest moment, she even took it a step further and protected the couple’s game-plan through the full duration of a Tony Soprano ass-whipping. Proving that she could handle her own shit, she murdered the fuck out of T. Soprano and got over on both La Cosa Nostra and the L.A.P.D., emerging with her husband from the final shoot-out unscathed. Though demonstrating little in the way of extraordinary traveling prowess, Alabama did convincingly portray a tolerable, nay, extremely useful female traveling companion, something most husbands who have been on a road-trip can attest to admiring with no little envy.
8.) Owen Wilson’s “Dignan” from Bottle Rocket -
From this film’s opening scene, the protagonist “Anthony” was on a journey and was aided in some degree by his best friend and criminal partner, Dignan (Owen Wilson). Starting with his assistance in the “escape” from the mental hospital to the outlining of the pair’s 75-year plan on the “escape bus,” Dignan showed that he was a traveling companion that could be relied upon if nothing else. In this, his planning of the book store heist, and the subsequent run from the law, Owen Wilson’s character made sure nothing was left to chance and demonstrated a thorough and admirable commitment to the journey and the companions involved. Though not the most intelligent fellow (he didn’t seem to understand that bookstores carry little cash or that Anthony’s hospital was a voluntary facility) what he lacked in cunning he made up for in optimistic enthusiasm. Sure, there were bumps along the way. I mean, can you blame the guy for getting a little angry at Anthony after learning that the 75-year plan had been betrayed for a little chambermaid nookie? I, for one, do not cast aspersions on the man, especially after his return and second offer for Anthony to again join Dignan’s gang. Showing that he could also be counted on in a pinch, Dignan even went back to rescue Applejack after the final robbery went to shit, something that allowed for his other conspirators to escape while he took the heat. Maybe it’s because I have a soft spot for Wes Anderson’s films, or because I wish that every time I ran from the cops I too had a Rolling Stones soundtrack, but to me, Dignan was a hard traveling companion to beat in terms of loyalty, optimism and resilience. The same cannot be said for the next pair, however helpful their ultimate contributions may have turned out to be….
7.) Tie: Chewey and Harrison Ford’s “Han Solo” from Star Wars -
Lucas largely kept away from this particular story-line when crapping one of the most holy cinematic franchises down his leg. Despite the appalling Greedo incident in the re-tooled Episode IV that shall not be spoken of, this is about the only pile of shit George didn’t step in, pretty much every other important character in the cannon ruined via CGI, reinterpretation, and romantic fumbles. But I digress, the contributions made by Solo and his first mate solid in ways that cannot be denied as it concerns plot progression, leadership capabilities, and gear. And speaking of hardware, the Millennium Falcon was absolutely tits. Sure, like any chariot, the thing had its share of maintenance issues, but when in tip-top shape and properly serviced, the goddamned thing was a veritable Death Star killer. Aside from Han and Chewey’s ride, the pair also had a great track-record of success when it came to out-running the heat: the fully mustered fleet of the Empire unable to snag the ship and its crew in chases/fights outside of Tatooine, Hoth, an asteroid field, and multiple climactic final battle scenes. And when on the ground, Solo and his furry companion confirmed their solid leadership both in Princess rescue ops and sabotage recons, each mission taking place far behind enemy lines. While brave and macho in ways that would make a twice wounded marine weep, the smuggler-duo did not rank higher because of repeated captures that simply could not be excused (snagged by Ewoks, guys? Really?). Such failures were not an option for the next entrant, a man as honorable as any ever born to film….
6.) Clive Owen’s “Theo Feron” in Children of Men -
The consummate “every man,” Owen’s character in this film displayed some of the most admirable qualities that you could ask for in a traveling partner, and did so with a character that had little in the way of flashy talents or special toys. Though not at all interested in his ex-wife’s politics, he still volunteered to help her cause out so long as his wheels were properly greased. Holding up his end of the financial bargain thereafter, Theo repeatedly went above and beyond the call of duty with the protection of Kee, his charge. Braving a high-speed assassination attempt, Michael Cain’s murder, a demilitarized war-zone/prison ghetto, and the loss of all attempts to get a smoke in, Theo kept resurfacing to fight the good fight and get to the chosen destination, distractions be damned. Along with resilience, Owen’s character also demonstrated his utility via a broad array of connections to obtain traveling papers and a safe house: a most useful set of skills in a dystopian martial-law future. In the end, the destination was safely reached through a most pressing sacrifice (rowing sucks), both mother and baby reaching the boat that was to take the pair safely away. Thus, mission accomplished: not an easy task for Theo by any stretch considering the journey involved.
5.) Peter O’Toole’s “T.E. Lawrence” from Lawrence of Arabia -
T.E. had a lot going for him early on in this film, the British officer combining the best of his country’s stiff upper lip with a transcendent grasp of cultural diversity not seen for decades after the real Lawrence’s demise. Early in the film he proved to his Bedouin guide that he wasn’t just some ordinary Caucasian when he refused to drink unless his companion did so, showing that one man’s abilities in a desert equal any other’s. In this singular act, he not only defined the arc of his character throughout the film and proved that he was hard as shit, but also aptly demonstrated an important traveling quality: the ability to shut up and roll with the leader. If the driver doesn’t need to stop to take a leak, don’t ask; if the pilot doesn’t want to circle back around, don’t request it; and for God’s sake, if camels and desert people think it’s best to conserve water and stay in the shade, listen to them. While Lawrence went against this later in the film by bringing a guy back out of the Sun’s Anvil despite conflicting advice, it wasn’t an act that slowed the group but instead proved that they grow balls in England just as big as they do in the Middle East. Using his military connections and knowledge to help the Arabs win their independence and the African theatre of the war, T.E. proved himself one hell of a commodity both to the people he was riding with, but also to the Western world at large: for he showed that British people could indeed hang with the hardest of them.
4.) Clint Eastwood’s “Josey Wales” from The Outlaw Josey Wales –
They don’t hatch them like this anymore: men like Josey Wales rising only out of only the most putrid and horrific ashes. Saber-slashed down the better part of his face, Josey could only watch as a squad of Yankee red-legs raped, murdered, and burned his entire goddamned family. Left with nothing but an old revolver, some cartridges, and a shit-load of hatred in his heart, Wales joined a Reb. guerilla posse to exact his revenge on the North. After he teamed up with a misfit band of Native Americans, women, and a mange-ridden hound, Eastwood then went on to re-define both the modern western but also the consummate traveling companion in this, his most daring directorial effort.
In scene after scene, Wales demonstrated why he was a man worth having around on a long trip. Taking on entire regiments single-handedly as a warm-up at the onset, he went on to cut down multiple sets of bounty hunters, Union patrols, naughty traders, and a squad of travelling thieves right out of the second ring of hell. And this was all BEFORE Eastwood’s character pacified a vigorously hostile Native American tribe and their chief when he astounded “Ten Bears” with both his startling courage and uncommon honor. During the climax Wales showed that he was deadly both four-on-one and in a siege situation (an important asset on a long voyage of any sort), as he successfully protected both his traveling party whilst getting sweet, sweet revenge on the bastard who did his family. While great for protection and as a guide, sad-sack that he was, he just barely failed to out-place the walking party that was…
3.) Neil Patrick Harris as himself in Harold and Kumar I & II -
What a waste! Had Harold and Kumar just relaxed and embraced the awesome majesty that was NPH, these movies might have transcended awesome and reached epic (and probably porno) status. After picking Doogie up in #1, the boys foolishly left their new travelling companion alone in the car, NPH rightly abandoning the two loads for more productive endeavors. When the man reappeared, he was dancing through the sunroof of a moving car with a handful of topless women, blowing a fat line right off the soft side of a stripper’s ass. A few weeks later, in #2, when Harold and Kumar’s journey brought them across the path of Harris again, he was no less helpful. After making sure the heroes get through a highway checkpoint, he promptly directed the boys to a rollicking, old fashioned whorehouse where the game was stepped up a notch vis a vis whore-branding and lower-thorax shotgun wounds.
In NPH, you had a man who was so powerfully tremendous that the plot and its central characters couldn’t keep up with his momentum: that which was churned up in his wake far too intense for even R-rated audiences. Neil Patrick Harris made it into so honorable a ranking not just for what he contributed to his traveling companions, but for the promise of what was offered (though never seized). The adventure continued during Harold and Kumar’s Christmas adventures, though nothing ever did quite match the image of NPH walking out of a whorehouse, red-hot brand in hand. Yet the man was one hell of a liability when going at full-tilt: that much was clear. This failing was not one seen in the people travelling with the next entrant, however, a dude who got to flex most of his muscles on screen at one point or another…
2.) Ian McKellen’s “Gandalf” from Lord of the Rings et al -
Let’s get the faults out of the way first, for the wizard had a few things going against him that impeded his usurpation of the #1 slot. First, as stoned as the old bastard was all the goddamned time, it’s a miracle he got anything done during the course of three films, his love of the hobbits’ green leaf remarked upon by Saruman right before old Gandalf got his ass handed to him. But let’s look at the other side of that coin, for in his defense, G-Money was fighting a wizard with tremendous battlefield vision. And really, when it comes to a guy to have at your hip when traveling through monster-infested terrain, who better than a commander of the mystic forces of good and evil to accompany you? Not only did Gandalf rock some serious magical shit when he needed to (the fight with the Balrog, his charge during the Helms Deep siege, etc.) but the guy could seriously scrap.
As anyone who has seen the trilogy can attest, when double-wielding the staff and sword combo, the old man was hell on wheels! And this is all quite aside from the fact that the dude was seemingly immortal, for when the wizard returned from death in his white form he was apparently more powerful than before he cashed in his chips. So standing back to take a look, you’ve got a traveling partner that is not only a great fighter, powerful magician, friend of giant eagles and talking trees, but has a questionable mortality complex at best. Gandalf, buddy: you’re driving.
1.) Anthony Hopkins’ “Dr. Hannibal Lecter” from Silence of the Lambs, et al -
Clarice’s trip to Florence was over a week in length and certainly cleared some serious distance, hence I’m including her intended prey, the good Dr. Lecter, for there can be no better traveling companion in the history of film. With the exception of Dignan and Alabama from Bottle Rocket and True Romance, none of the picks today had much in the way of conversational fortitude, most of them about as cheery and fun to talk to as a DMV employee. Dr. Lecter, on the other hand, proved time and again that when the mood struck him he had plenty to talk about, his seemingly endless base of knowledge promising hours of fascinating insights regarding art, history, politics, and dismemberment. True, the conversations would probably get a bit dark from time to time, but as it concerns long flights or drives, beggars can’t be choosers, especially when Hannibal comes to the table with perfect manners and villainous intelligence.
Further, if somebody crossed you, it’s been demonstrated that revenge will be swift and terrible, the fate that befell the men who ate his sister and the street merchant that insulted his lady-friend dreadful indeed. While some might (understandably) question the wisdom of spending an extended period of time with a homicidal maniac, remember that Hannibal never killed anybody that was useful to him. Thus, if traveling with him or anybody else, simply remember to keep up your end of the bargain. Provide pleasant but not profuse conversation as well as assistance in getting out of whatever jams may arise lest faces are ripped off or livers are eaten (understandable reactions from a person dealing with a shitty travel buddy, cannibal or not).
By Warren Cantrell