The Driver (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A professional getaway driver.

Ryan O’Neal plays a man who makes a living as a getaway driver for crooks leaving the scene of a crime. His driving skills are superior and in the criminal underworld his services are in high demand. Bruce Dern plays a police detective obsessed with catching this elusive driver. He makes a deal with a couple of bad guys (Joseph Walsh, Rudy Ramos) to hire this driver for their next robbery and then set him up for a police trap. The Driver is initially reluctant to work with the two, but eventually joins them only to ultimately look for help from a beautiful French woman known as the Player (Isabelle Adjani) to get him out of his jam.

I’ve never been much of an O’Neal fan, but here his lack of acting depth makes the movie more intriguing. The part was originally intended for Steve McQueen who would’ve given the role the stereotypically gritty treatment, but O’Neal has more of a boyish male model demeanor which makes you question whether he is tough enough, or brazen enough to handle the driving demands, so seeing him flourish when you’re not quite expecting it gives the character an interesting edge. I also liked the fact that at times even he conveys nervous facial expressions as he takes the vehicle through dangerous turns, which helps show even the ‘cool guys’ are human.

Dern easily steals the picture as he continues to find entertaining ways to give unique and memorable touches to all the characters that he plays. The dialogue that his character utters conforms yet again to his patented delivery. For instance he accuses his partner (Matt Clark) of possibly being a ‘fruitter’. In the past men of the gay persuasion were sometimes called ‘fruits’, but never a ‘fruitter’ which is a word he totally makes-up and would be considered inane and silly if said by anyone else, but when said with Dern’s patented delivery it makes the character seem even more unhinged and threatening instead. In fact Dern’s conversations with Clark are some of the movie’s best moments.

Although Adjani’s screen time is limited and I still enjoyed her presence and the fact that she doesn’t show any of the typical female vulnerability, but instead seems more stoic than any of the men makes her stand out from other female characters of that era. It’s also fun seeing her facial expression turned to an almost catatonic state during the film’s high octane final chase sequence.  Ronee Blakely doesn’t fare quite as well as she says her lines in too much of a monotone fashion though the ironic way that her character meets her demise does deserves a few points.

The chases are exciting particularly the opening one, which is done at night and the one done inside a car garage in which O’Neal intentionally destroys the car that he is driving in an attempt to teach the two other occupants that he is with a lesson. The cat-and-mouse scenario inside an abandoned warehouse that makes up the bulk of the film’s final chase is slick as well, but I felt there needed to be at least one more chase added as the film gets talky in-between and away from the action, which is what people that come to these type of films genres expect especially with the title that it has.

Writer/director Walter Hill shows a keen eye for detail and manages to capture everything, even an abandoned parking garage with a stylish allure. The script is smart and sophisticated with the character’s expressing themselves by using only the most minimum of words possible. The plot has a unique quality, but still manages to stay believable and why this thing failed at the box office and was chastised by the critics at the time is hard to understand, but it’s gained a strong cult following since and deserves more attention for being years ahead-of-its-time.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 28, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Walter Hill

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2)

One response to “The Driver (1978)

  1. Joseph Kearny

    The overall effect is muffled and pointless with zero pacing aside from the scenes involving cars which are exciting.

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