SOME flicks rely on the ‘less is more’ philosophy to provide quality entertainment, while others saturate the viewer with non-stop action and a constant barrage of script-driven upper-cuts. The Driver falls somewhere nicely in the middle; the dialogue is minimal and acts purely as a means to string the all-important car chases together. As if we need dialogue anyway, right? Well, it does help to separate the good guys from the bad guys, especially with a film that regularly has the hunter becoming the hunted and vice versa.
Ryan O’Neal plays The Driver – yes, the characters are given descriptors rather than names – a bloke at the top of his game as a getaway man for high-end criminal clientele. His hardnosed, steely attitude and strict employment conditions make him a necessary evil for crooks wanting the best possible chance at evading the law.
His skills behind the wheel create a spike in successful criminal activity that puts the heat on The Detective (Dern) – a ruthless, robot-like cop with no friends or grasp of social graces – to deliver results. The Detective learns that The Driver is the key element connecting this wave of crime, and makes it his mission to put him out of business. Period.
He leans on his own criminal links, using the intel and unwilling help of The Player (Adjani), The Connection (Blakley) and Glasses (Walsh), along with a federally funded bait of cash to lay a trap for The Driver.
When the plan backfires, both The Detective and The Driver are double-crossed; The Detective is left high and dry to cop the full brunt from his superiors, while The Driver chooses a heavy hand to exact revenge using the method he knows best – behind the wheel.
The title role was a dark change of pace for O’Neal, whose back catalogue of characters tended to be much more upbeat.
However, he plays The Driver stylishly, with a believable silence and swagger – a character brilliantly reinvigorated by Ryan Gosling in the cracker 2011 flick Drive.
Dern, with his irritating, nasal whine and endless rants, cleverly adds to his character’s unlikeability, but the inclusion of French actress Isabelle Adjani as The Player was completely lost on me – her role mostly consists of staring like a stunned mullet or lazing around like a cat, and feels mainly like an excuse to give the film some big-name eye candy to help promote it.
If you want eye candy then look no further than Ronee Blakley as The Connection – she oozes 70s spunk and delivers it with miles of style.
THE realistic car chase scenes throughout The Driver are loud, dark, gritty and aggressive. You feel every hit and crunch, with the no-holds-barred action you’d expect from a 1970s film; it relies purely on wide open throttle and spinning tyres to deliver the goods rather than the CGI and lame dialogue that often accompanies modern-day chase scenes. I enjoyed the low-key camaraderie between the different getaway drivers; even after belting each other senseless block after block, a simple nod or admission to being or admission to being “only the driver” is enough to explain it’s just business.
FLICK FACT: The character of The Driver was originally intended for Steve McQueen, which explains the minimal dialogue and hard edge to the role. He declined, choosing to break away from car-based films after Bullitt and Le Mans.
VEHICLES: 1973 Chevrolet C10, 1974 Chevrolet Impala, 1974 Ford Galaxie 500, 1970 Mercedes-Benz, 1976 Pontiac Trans Am, 1977 Pontiac Firebird, 1970 Triumph Bonneville, 1963 Cadillac Fleetwood STARS: Ryan O’Neal, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani, Ronee Blakley, Joseph Walsh DIRECTOR: Walter Hill ACTION: Fast-paced, highimpact, big-city car chases are all the better for the unusual inclusion of a Chevy C10 pick-up broadsiding to the max. The absolute flogging of a Mercedes sedan in a basement car park mixes awesome driver skill with gratifying destruction PLOT: A professional getaway driver is locked in the crosshairs of a crooked cop, who stakes his career on taking the driver down