Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The Driver

Written and directed by Walter Hill, The Driver is the story of a driver whose job is to steal cars as getaway vehicles for robbers as he is being hunted down by a detective. Inspired by Jean-Pierre Melville’s film Le Samourai, the film is an exploration of a man who has a simple job as he deals with being hunted as well as maintain a low profile as the titular character is played by Ryan O’Neal. Also Starring Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani, and Ronee Blakley. The Driver is an intoxicating and thrilling film from Walter Hill.

The film revolves an unnamed driver who works as a getaway driver as he deals with a detective obsessed with catching him. It’s a film that is a simple cat-and-mouse game of sorts but with a study into discipline and one-upmanship as the driver and detective (Bruce Dern) try to outwit one another. Walter Hill’s screenplay doesn’t rely very much on plot schematics but rather two men in this game as the detective has an idea in trying to catch the driver by getting a robber to be part of a heist in exchange for serving less time in prison. Yet, due to those who have their own ideas in what they want to do. Things go wrong where the driver is aware that he’s being set-up as it once again plays into the game of wits between the driver and detective as the latter does have a few allies on his side but it adds a lot of ambiguity into whether they’re in it for themselves or helping either person in this game. Some of Hill’s dialogue is stylized as it bears elements of film noir but Hill would favor action instead of dialogue to drive the story.

Hill’s direction is definitely stylish not just for its intricate and thrilling car chases but also in the scenes where it is about what would happen next before the next job and the planning of these jobs. Shot entirely on location in Los Angeles, the film does play like a world that is very modern yet the driver is someone that plays by his own rules and with a keen sense of discipline. Notably in the opening sequence in the way he waits for a robbery to commence but things don’t go right because the robbers arrived late and they’re being chased by the police yet the driver is able to succeed in the getaway. Hill’s approach to compositions in the close-ups and medium shots says a lot in creating that air of suspense and drama. Hill’s usage of wide shots do help play into the chases as it relates to the look of Los Angeles in the way they look for scenes set at night as it feels like a world that is very modern.

The car chases definitely says a lot in the way Hill films them with the usage of cameras being locked into the cars to provide that sense of thrill and realism in how fast things are and the impact of the way they would hit certain objects or cars. When they’re seen from afar, there is still that sense of power in the way cars try to chase each other and how the driver has to get rid of them without wanting to kill someone. Still, Hill would maintain a sense of noir in the people that the driver meets including a young gambler (Isabelle Adjani) who would help him in one final game of wits against the detective. Even as the driver has to deal with the men he was reluctant to work with as he knows that they’re driven by money where it is about what is right and important in the need to survive. Overall, Hill crafts an exhilarating and riveting film about a getaway driver trying to evade the hands of an obsessed detective trying to catch him.

Cinematographer Philip H. Lathrop does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography in the way many of the nighttime exteriors in Los Angeles are shown with its usage of blue-green lights as well as some low-key lights for scenes set in the hotels and bars at night. Editors Tina Hirsch and Robert K. Lambert do amazing work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts and other rhythmic cuts to play into the chases while being straightforward for the dramatic and low-key moments of suspense in the film. Production designer Harry Horner, with set decorator Darrell Silvera and art director David M. Haber, does excellent work with the look of the posh hotel room the gambler lives at to the more quaint homes and rooms that the driver lives in.

Costume designers Jack Bear, Robert Cornwall, and Jennifer L. Parsons do fantastic work with the costumes with the look of the gambler and the clothes that she wears to the more casual look of the driver. The sound work of Donald C. Rogers and production sound mixer Richard Wagner is superb for the way the sound of tires sound when they break very hard for turns as well as the sounds of gunfire and all sorts of moment that add so much to its suspense and action. The film’s music by Michael Small is terrific for its low-key score that has bits of orchestration but also some jazz pieces with some country and disco music that is being played in the background.

The casting by Jane Feinberg and Mike Fenton is wonderful as it features some notable small roles from Nick Dmitri and Bob Minor as the two robbers in the film’s opening sequence, Denny Macko as an exchange man the gambler knows, Matt Clark and Felice Orlandi as a couple of detectives aiding the detective, Joseph Walsh as a man caught by the detective who is given a deal to bait the driver, Rudy Ramos as a fellow criminal who tries to confront the driver only to push things the wrong way, and Ronee Blakely as the driver’s friend who provides all of the connections. Isabelle Adjani is amazing as the gambler as a young woman who would be at the opening robbery as a witness as she doesn’t give away the driver’s identity as she is this quiet companion of sorts for him.

Bruce Dern is brilliant as the detective as this man that is eager to catch the driver by any means but also has a bit of respect for the man knowing that he is willing to make things harder as it’s a role of wit and bravado for Dern. Finally, there’s Ryan O’Neal in an excellent performance as the titular character who doesn’t say very much as he maintains a sense of professionalism in what he does while being someone that is always suspicious on those he is working with and with the detective who is catching him as it is one of his more underrated performances.

The Driver is an incredible film from Walter Hill that features top-notch performances from Ryan O’Neal, Bruce Dern, and Isabelle Adjani. It’s a film that isn’t just an intriguing cat-and-mouse film of sorts with elements of film noir. It’s also a unique study of what two men would do to outwit each other while maintaining a code of honor in their battle. In the end, The Driver is a phenomenal film from Walter Hill.

Related: Le Samourai - Drive

Walter Hill Films: (Hard Times (1975 film)) - (The Warriors) - (The Long Riders) - (Southern Comfort) - (48 Hrs.) - (Streets of Fire) - (Brewster’s Millions (1985 film)) - (Crossroads (1986 film)) - (Extreme Prejudice) - (Red Heat) - (Johnny Handsome) - (Another 48 Hrs.) - (Trespass) - (Geronimo: An American Legend) - (Wild Bill) - (Last Man Standing) - (Supernova) - (Undisputed) - (Broken Trail) - (Bullet to the Head)

© thevoid99 2016


Dell said...

I meant to watch this a couple years ago after seeing Drive, but never did. Thanks for the reminder. I especially need to see it because Walter Hill directed. He's a very underrated director.

ruth said...

Oh I love Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai. I thought Alain Delon was superb in that film. Not sure about O'Neal playing a similar character but I'm intrigued now since that film inspired this one.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-Walter Hill is a guy that hasn't gotten his due for what he's done and it's a shame. He's made some of the finest films of the 70s and 80s. The guy deserves to at least have one more great film in him and maybe some accolades along the way.

@ruth-Here's thing about The Driver not many people know about. Steve McQueen was supposed to be the lead role but he was unavailable. I think if McQueen had done it, it would've been too easy to see him in. Ryan O'Neal is not a great actor but when he is working with great directors and given excellent scripts. He can rise above as I think this is one of his more underrated performances.

Unknown said...

A fantastic early Hill film that exudes atmosphere. I love the minimalist vibe, which makes me wonder if Michael Mann saw this before he made THIEF.

thevoid99 said...

@J.D. Lafrance-I haven't seen Thief but I'm sure he was inspired by that film as it is underrated.