The Driver

Walter Hill, USA, 1978, 91 min.

The titular character in The Driver, played by Ryan O’Neal, doesn’t speak much. No one does really, except for Bruce Dern’s crazy detective out to get him. In fact, the film is so disinterested in information, that the sparseness actually becomes the point of the film. In fact, no one is ever even given a name.

Walter Hill, who wrote and directed the film, seems to be keen on taking out anything that resembles exposition. He deconstructs the story down into it’s core elements: Man vs. Man, and Man in Car vs. Man in Car.

All of the central characters have a single motivation. The Driver is the best at driving and wants to pull off jobs. The Detective is the best at the detecting wants to catch the Driver in the act. The Player (Isabelle Adjani) wants money to get out. The Connection (Ronee Blakley) wants the money to keep coming in. The three bank robbers (Fingers, Teeth, and Glasses) just want to get away clean.

Watching the film is like watching these pieces move around a chessboard. Everything else has been removed. No sub-plots, no character-development, no window-dressing. It’s black and white, which is an interesting change from what most other films give you.

I would be remiss not to mention the car-chases, which are stellar. There are a handful of big set-pieces that are filmed to put you in the mindset of the driver. Well-cut action. No music. Just the squeal of tires. Real tires on real cars dodging through (and sometimes crashing into) real things.

The film is spare, but not devoid of style. The ending has a nice surreal touch, and the actions is paced and cut well. Bruce Dern brings some nice comedic touches to every scene he is in which counter-point the attitude of the driver. Ryan O’Neil acts in the same way I would describe the film: stoically, sparely, but always on the verge of exploding into dangerous action.


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