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.
Feel free to comment on the review as always. What did you make of the car chases? Why does no-one remember this?