"The Driver" is a specialist in a rare business: he drives getaway cars in robberies. His exceptional talent prevented him from being caught yet. After another successful flight from the police, a self-assured detective makes it his primary goal to catch the Driver. He promises remission of punishment to a gang if they help to convict him in a set-up robbery. The Driver seeks help from "The Player" (Isabelle) to mislead the detective.Written by
Tom Zoerner <Tom.Zoerner@informatik.uni-erlangen.de>
At Los Angeles's American Cinemateque, a 131 minute version of "The Driver" was shown. While it does add insights to some characters in the story, this longer version features many more car chases. See more »
Less is more: a superb existential thriller to rival Point Blank and car chases to equal The French Connection, along with a couple of outstanding performances from the leads.
Here, the underworld's most talented getaway driver (O'Neal) is obsessively pursued by a corrupt, power-mad cop (Dern), who'll stop at nothing to catch him - even if it means blackmailing a seedy gang of bank robbers to help lure him into a trap. Aiding The Driver (these are characters who don't need names) is the beautiful and enigmatic Player (Adjani), who helps double-cross The Detective.
Walter Hill once mused that all his movies, like those of fellow director John Carpenter, were really westerns in disguise; hence the cowboy hats, Winchester rifles and, er, cowboys in the case of The Long Riders - which crop up repeatedly in his pictures. (Although where that leaves Brewster's Millions is anybody's guess.) The Driver, originally devised as a vehicle for Steve McQueen, is no exception: if O'Neal's country music-loving driver is referred to as 'The Cowboy', Dern, who once received death threats for killing John Wayne on screen, plays his twitching, preening nemesis like every crooked sheriff from Rio Lobo to Unforgiven.
Everybody is A Man (or Woman) With No Name - archetypes defined by their roles ('The Player', 'The Connection'), existing purely to drive the plot forward. O'Neal plays the eponymous anti-hero as half-man, half-automobile, speaking only when absolutely necessary - "Get in", "Go home" - expending just the right amount of energy to get the job done, as evinced by three of the most incredible car chases in cinema. (Hill's previous work as assistant director on Bullitt obviously stood him in good stead here).
As with Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, or Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai, which The Driver most resembles, nothing is wasted. "How do we know you're that good?" asks a doubtful crime baron, on procuring The Driver's services. O'Neal's unspoken reply providing rare light relief, as with casual insouciance and surgical precision, he reduces the dismayed owner's Mercedes to jigsaw pieces against an underground car park's concrete pillars to display his credentials.
Like a manic mechanic, Hill similarly strips the story - part-action thriller, part-existential noir - back to its essence, siphoning off dialogue, back story, character development and love interest, until only the Zen flesh and bones remain.
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