THE DRIVER (1978) / Crime-Thriller

Running Length: 91 minutes
MPAA Classification: PG for language and violence.

Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani, Ronee Blakely, Matt Clark, Felice Orlandi
Director: Walter Hill
Producer: Lawrence Gordon
Screenplay: Walter Hill

Ryan O’Neal (Love Story, Paper Moon) is the titular of Walter Hill’s classic crime flick, The Driver, which is one of those films from the 70s that has literally been cannibalized by others that have preceded it. Overall, The Driver is nothing more than your typical cops and robbers actioneer, but its intentional lack of character depth makes it somewhat intriguing. Hell, these guys don’t even names.

O’Neal is “The Driver”, a hardened professional who provides criminals and other assorted lowlifes with a getaway as long as they’re willing to pay enough. He’s the best in the business and knows it, which is why “The Detective” (Bruce Dern, Coming Home) is after him. The Detective is willing to do anything to catch “the cowboy who can’t be caught”, even if it means crossing the line of police procedure. And this time he’s got a fool-proof plan to put The Driver away for good, but it turns out that The Driver has got plans of his own.

Most will find their attention invested in the two car chases that bookend The Driver, as these are indubitably the film’s finest moments. Magnificently executed, paced, and edited, these chases are what the film is mainly known for, and for good reason, too. Philip H. Lathrop’s daring cinematography weaves through the streets of Los Angeles as The Driver either eludes pursuing police cruisers or stays on the tail of opposing criminals. And as long as these chases are – (each one clocks in at about eight minutes) – they are never boring.

O’Neal wears the same distant expression for most of the movie and it suits his character. He looks detached, empty. The Driver lives alone, has no real friends, and doesn’t talk much, and O’Neal captures most of this quite well. His handsome features are deceptive, for he’s capable of killing with the snap of a finger. You expect one thing and get the other. Opposite him is Dern, who you can tell is really relishing his role. The Detective is grossly self-confident and conceited, and seems just about as seedy as the supposed bad guys that he’s after. (His final expression at the end of the film is priceless.)

Walter Hill manages to turn Los Angeles into a very dark and sinister place; a place where crime runs rampant and police sirens echo throughout most of the night. The Driver is nothing remarkable and it’s nothing close to original, but it’s cool and very entertaining.

Final rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★)

© 2012 Stephen Earnest

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