on 3 May 2004
Walter Hill's second directorial feature is a tough, hard-hitting, existential thriller in which there are no clear-cut heroes. The Driver (Ryan O'Neal) drives robbers away from the scene of the crime and The Detective (Bruce Dern) is a maverick, obssessed with nailing the Driver and ready to use any means necessary, even if it means breaking the rules. He hires a couple of lowlifes to lure the Driver into a trap, but when this backfires, things get hotter and the bait is the proceeds of a bank robbery.
This film contains two enthralling car chases which punctuate both the beginning and end. Hill has done an efficient job in directing these action sequences, capturing the true essence of what it feels like to be inside a car which is speeding down the streets of LA. The rest of the movie is just as good, as Dern closes in on O'Neal and imposes a threatening presence on him and the Player (Isabelle Adjani), a mysterious woman who is attracted by the Driver's dangerous lifestyle.
Both O'Neal and Dern are very good as the antagonists. Overall, The Driver has a gritty feel to it and some nice, suspenseful moments, especially towards the end of the climactic auto chase. The ending has a neat twist, too.
on 6 August 2015
Forget "Drive" and get "Driver". It's shocking how the recent Refn film Drive stole from this less known Hill's masterpiece. Basically the first 30 minutes are exactly the same as in this "original version". The Driver is more experimental and new wave than Drive and still more honest, all relying on editing (fantastic) and not on glamour. Very Godard is the idea of not naming the characters but after their role (the Driver, the Girl, etc...) and quite original is the mixed cast (all doing their best). Comparing this to Drive is comparing old school cinema (that of ex-young prodiges who became classic themselves) and noticing how essential and not "posing" was that cinema, compared to the new one, all meant just to show off and dishonest enough by not even explicitly admitting he stole from the old one (Drive stole from that, from Kitano, from Asian movies, etc...). Maybe it's even too dry and silent, but still it's a courageous attempt to renew a genre (crime, cop, car chase). Hill proves to be a great director and hands off for this blu ray edition
Forget all recent pretenders, The Driver is THE great getaway drive and Walter Hill's best movie by far. It's a simple story about a duel of nerves as much as wits where the loot is irrelevant and the challenge is everything, played out by iconic characters known only by their jobs - cop, driver, player. Ryan O'Neal is the best getaway driver in the business who's never been caught, locking antlers with Bruce Dern's obsessive cop who is more than willing to break the law to take him down, even setting up a robbery so he can catch him with the loot. Along the way there are a few twists and turns, a couple of cold-blooded shocks and three of the most remarkable - yet never ludicrously over the top - car chases ever filmed. It's not always entirely realistic, but its nocturnal world of reflective surfaces, flexible morals and inflexible professional ethics creates its own believable world that draws you in and never lets you go.
Hill had been an assistant director on Bullitt, and even cast that film's mute witness Felice Orlandi as one of the cops, but there's a lot more to the film than just great car chases or an effortlessly cool atmosphere. His direction is immaculate, visually imaginative but controlled and contained, never showing off: like his characters, it's about doing the job better than anyone else without breaking a sweat. Pared to the bone, it's a classic example of show, don't tell, which makes it all the more surprising to find an alternate opening on Twilight Time's limited edition Blu-ray that spells out things in very black and white terms. It was a wise move cutting it in favor of the much more visually striking, almost silent opening robbery and getaway, because we don't need to see witness Isabelle Adjani being paid in advance for her silence or to see Matt Clark's reluctant sidekick being introduced to new boss Dern to sense the tension between them (ironically in a scene where Dern tells him "Don't talk. When you're talking, you're not thinking"). Everything we need to know, we find out naturally.
These characters don't need fleshing out: hollow, lonely inhabitants of a hollow, lonely city defined purely by their professions, all they have are the games they play. The stakes may not be even - if the Driver wins, he makes a little money. If the cop wins, the Driver goes to jail for 15 years - but the players are evenly matched, each the best at what they do and each eager to prove it by outwitting the other. Not that there aren't amateurs and also-rans circling them, not least a pair of convincingly seedy low-lives well worth steering clear of in Joseph Walsh's Glasses and Rudy Ramos' Teeth.
It's rather hard to take seriously Hill's claims that he hadn't seen Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai when he made it too seriously - not only does a woman provide the driver with an alibi but Hill even makes her a Frenchwoman (Adjani, the film's sole the weak link, playing her part with the kind of inexpressiveness that starts to turn into a death mask). But there's equal influence from the earlier Hill-scripted Peckinpah version of The Getaway in its train sequence with a suitcase full of cash and the scene where O'Neal demolishes a car with a display of precision driving in a car park with the same kind of ruthless efficiency that Steve McQueen (for whom this was originally written) destroyed a cop car with a shotgun. True the car chases that looked so extraordinary with their mixture of POV shots and old school stunt driving on the giant screen lose a little bit of their impact on the small screen, particularly if you've only seen it fullscreen, but the widescreen Blu-ray release at times comes pretty close, although unusually for one of Twilight Time's titles I found myself having to adjust my TV's default picture settings to get the optimum picture quality in the opening night time sequences.
Although the film received rave reviews and did decent business in Europe (it was largely financed by British company EMI), it met with a muted critical and box-office reception in the US, where O'Neal's reputation as a lightweight pretty boy romantic comedy star worked against it. That seems particularly unfair, because O'Neal turns in a career-best performance here and just oozes the right kind of dangerous cool for the part. He's well matched by Bruce Dern in a role that seems so perfectly tailored to his brand of dangerous nervous energy, here kept leashed behind an almost permanent grin, that it's surprising to learn it was originally intended for Robert Mitchum, who turned it down because he thought there was "too much car stuff."
There have long been rumors of a much longer 131-minute cut including more action, a lot more character development and a prominent supporting role for Cheryl Ladd, all of which hit the cutting room floor after a solitary preview screening, but Hill has categorically confirmed that it's pure urban legend and that the 89-minute version is his definitive version. It's hard to believe anyone could see a longer, talkier version as an improvement: pared down to a tight hour-and-a-half and with its characters kept firmly iconic, this is such a perfect movie it doesn't need embellishment.
While the UK DVD is a fullframe transfer with no extras, Twilight Time's limited edition region-free US Blu-ray comes with deleted alternate opening, trailer, an isolated track for Michael Small's score and booklet with informed commentary by Julie Kirgo. StudioCanal's UK and German Bluray release includes the deleted opening, trailer and 13 TV spots and is taken from the slightly longer - by one two-minute scene - European cut of the film.
The Driver is written and directed by Walter Hill. It stars Ryan O'Neil, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani and Ronee Blakley. Music is by Michael Small and cinematography by Phillip H. Lathrop.
A determined cop pursues an enigmatic getaway driver through the crooked streets of Los Angeles...
It's most amusing to now be able to look back at some of the reviews for The Driver back on its initial release. Without wishing to sound like a smarty pants myself of course, but some of them simply didn't get it, they didn't understand that Ryan O'Neil's character was meant to be one note, unreadable and dissociated from society. There is a reason that the principal characters don't have names, they are simply known as The Driver, The Detective and The Player, the core emotional worth of these people is a key aspect to the film's strength. Where The Driver is emotionless and not for shaking, The Detective is a coiled spring waiting to explode, a law enforcer willing to do anything to capture his Moby Dick.
Much of the plaudits that come the film's way tend to focus on the car action, which is perfectly understandable. The chase sequences are kinetic, the trial runs exhilarating, this is quite simply a fast car lovers dream as the stunt team lay fire to the streets of L.A. It's also an influential film into the bargain, however, this is not purely an exercise in action over substance. For sure the story line is simple, but the themes simmering away are anything but simple. The thin line between law and lawlessness is observed, between calm and chaos there is but a hair's breadth, the grey areas vivid in their textures. This is a cat and mouse thriller with a difference, even daring to risk the viewer's ire with a crafty and low-key finale.
The script is in turns laconic and hard-boiled, the screenplay surprisingly convoluted in relation to how it all pans out. While the neo-noir vibe is further enhanced by Lathrop's photography as the streetscapes pulse with urban realism. The acting doesn't have to be top notch, the characters do not call for thesping of the method or board walking kind, they just need to get a handle on their respective traits that define them, and they do, perfectly so. A supremely cool movie, exciting and brawny as well, The Driver is a neo-noir gem. 9/10
*** This comment may contain spoilers ***
Before Hill hit the big time with The Warriors and Southern Comfort, he made what still stands today as one of the great 'car chase' movies. Not only is it an excuse to show off some skillful stunt driving, but it is an enticing blend of crime, noir, and action with a bleak tone and some excellent dialogue. Featuring strong performances from Bruce Dern and Ryan O'Neil, The Driver has become a forgotten cult classic.
O'Neil stars as a getaway driver for robbers, mostly inept robbers. In the style of a hit-man they must find a way to contact him, and once the the job is done he gets his money and vanishes. He is at the top of his game, and no matter how many cops they send after him, he always manages to get away thanks to his driving. A local Detective played by Dern decides to make it his top priority to catch the Driver, and will use anyone to find him, do anything to catch him. Dern hires a bunch of criminals and orders them to contact the Driver and involve him in a false heist, so that the Detective will catch him. The Driver is not so dumb though, is cool and tough, and realises there is something odd going on. Trashing the car of the robbers who want him, he turns down the job. He soon realises the cop is on his tail. O'Neil gets the help of the cold, emotionless Player (Adjani) to fool the Detective, and they set up a plan to get away with a briefcase full of money. However, the Detective is also close behind them.
This has some of the best filmed, most exciting and raw car-chases ever filmed. Everything is done simply, there are no jumps between skyscrapers, but it is done with intensity and realism. O'Neil is perfect in the role, speaking only when necessary and everything he says sounds cool. Dern is also strong as the Detective who grows increasingly frantic and abuses his power. Adjani is effectively distant adding to the tone of detachment and coldness. We don't get close to any character, we wouldn't want to and that is not the point. We know what they are, what they do, and watch them do it. No character is named or given any sort of background. The bleak surroundings and grim cityscapes all add to the noir and empty feeling, which may mean that some people will not enjoy it. This is not meant to be a cosy film though, and has a suitably ambiguous ending. Also look out for Ronee Blakely, Nancy's mother from Elm Street Pt 1, as The Connection. An underrated chase and crime movie. No extra features on the disc though.
on 21 February 2007
The Driver (1978) by Walter Hill is the last great car-chase movie of the 1970s. Following on from such iconic movies as Bullitt (1968) & The French Connection (1971) as well as lesser-known offerings like Vanishing Point (1971)& The Seven-Ups (1973), The Driver is a worthy successor which is just as good as any of them.
The story concerns a supremely talented getaway driver (Ryan O' Neal) who plies his trade in night- time Los Angeles while being pursed by a fanatical cop (Bruce Dern).
The Driver is a highly stylised film with very little characterisation, no names for the cast - merely descriptions of what they do; the driver, the cop, the player etc. The dialogue is sparse, the acting restrained (even Bruce Dern!) and the music pared down; all of which emphasises the drama, tension and visceral excitement of the car chases.
Comparisons have been made between The Driver and Le Samourai (1967) by John-Pierre Melville, in which a stylish, taciturn assassin is brought down when he becomes aware of his own emotions. There is a similar line-up & alibi scene which Hill has clearly copied. Alain Delon's assassin is a stylish handsome loner with minimal life outside of his work; just like Ryan O'Neal in The Driver. For both Alan Delon and Ryan O'Neal meeting a woman changes everything, the influence of Le Samourai may have prompted Walter Hill to cast the French actress Isabella Adjani in the lead female role as the player.
The story is gripping, the minimalist style (which could be seen as pretentious or silly) really works and the direction and cinematography truly excellent. It's hard to believe this is only Hill's second movie. A minor quibble would be the reusing of two scenes from The Getaway (1972), whose screenplay was written by Hill himself. The first scene is when the cop pursues the exchange man and a suitcase aboard a train and the second is when the driver fast draw shoots an adversary; both very like Steve McQueen in The Getaway.
Whatever, The Driver is a b-movie classic which had clear influence on James Cameron (especially the night time car chase in The Terminator) and Michael Mann who has created stylised crime pictures with tight lipped male protagonists in Thief (1981) and Heat (1995). It is one of Walter Hill's best movies in a career that has taken in the blatantly commercial buddy movies of 48 Hours (1982) and Red Heat (1988) as well as stylised Sam Peckinpah homage's like The Long Riders (1980) and Last Man Standing (1998). It's also an opportunity to drool over classic 70's American muscle cars and should be included in the collection of any movie petrol head.
The DVD package is pretty basic; 16:9 aspect ratio, mono sound and no extras. The picture quality is more akin to a well preserved video than a digital mastering with some scratches and dirt still quite evident. Arguably this bare bones presentation is kind of fitting considering the minimalist nature of The Driver but a digital remastering to improve the picture quality and a 5.1 audio track would be nice to really enjoy the roar of the engines. Perhaps a Special Edition in a year or two...?
on 10 February 2011
NO camera trickery, NO sped up sequences, just proper chases done in real time on real roads. NO gimmicks other than an occasional helpful ramp make the sequences some of the best and gritty car chases. Fed up with computer effects taking over then give this a try. Sure, the acting is dated and the stereotypes are there but look beyond this and you'll see the influence and some of the sequences for the computer game similarly named.
on 7 June 2009
This superb 'dark' film has some of the best car chases ever... I liked the Red Chevy stepside pick-up so much I bought one! The chase between the pick-up and the Firebird was easily the equal of the famous Bullit chase in my humble opinion..
on 8 May 2015
I received the dvd quite quickly and because I hadn't watched a film in weeks I put it on remembering the car chases. I had seen all these newer films like Fast and Furious and was wondering if The Driver still had it ...
I wasn't disappointed. It was simple in its story telling, but got down to business and even though I bought it in sd dvd instead of bluray(I think 20 quid for such an old film is ridiculous), the upscaling worked fine and the sirens and engines revving still came through as good as I remember (possibly better ). If you like your older fashioned films and can live with a less than perfect picture, it is definitely worth purchasing. Very good.
on 7 March 2005
Directed by Walter Hill, this film is an exercise in minimalist dialogue and uncluttered cinematography. There are no big speeches and every line is carefully crafted; every gesture carefully orchestrated to give a feeling of maximum tension, isolation and anonymity. I like the way Hill offers very little by way of explanation; letting the action and laconic interplay force you into making judgements and guesses to fill in the gaps.
It was the first film I saw which had all its characters denied names; they are known purely by what they do - the driver, the cop, the girl, and so on. I've always believed less is more and Hill's clever psychological manipulation of the audience proves it in this and many other respects.
Apart from two women who love the driver (Ryan O'Neal), no one likes or trusts anyone else. This creates a mood of mutual distrust and ropes us into a cat and mouse game played for real in a real world where very little is as it seems, and where everyone has their price. There is death, menace and corruption on these streets. But for all its understated figure expression, character delineation and long silences, no such frugality exists when it comes to the action set-pieces!
These are masterfully executed and burst onto the screen in long segments, borrowing heavily (in parts) from Bullitt (1968) and even augmenting the achievements of that film with its real-time feel and handheld camera shots. All this creates a steady contrast in pace and narrative tension without becoming overblown or just downright silly. Hill resists the Starsky & Hutch approach to car chases - there are no alleyways filled with empty boxes here (well, actually, there is one - but, hey! - just one!)
In a film of this calibre, as you'd expect, there are twists - the biggest being saved for the end. And how they got that car to land where it did in the final chase ... ? Well, I'll let you see that one for yourself.
It has dated pretty well too, I think. I just wish modern film-makers would go more for this style of chase sequence instead of boring techno-boom explosions, endless slo-mo and scratch-rap-style edits that play about with real time. Just film it like it is - which is what Hill does so well, and in this respect, it is a master class.
Incidentally, yes, The Driver is the influence behind the successful PS2 Driver 1/2/3 franchises.