Driver, The (1978)

Driver, The (1978)

“I really like chasing you.”

A stoic getaway driver (Ryan O’Neal) receives help from a beautiful casino worker (Isabelle Adjani) in eluding a detective (Bruce Dern) determined to capture him.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Bruce Dern Films
  • Car Chase
  • Cat-and-Mouse
  • Ryan O’Neal Films
  • Walter Hill Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “cult film was directed by Walter Hill, who mixed film noir with existential European gangster pictures.” He notes that while “it has an interesting style,” “the actors (but for Dern, of course):

… seem to be on their own and lost.” He adds that “it’s okay that Hill had O’Neal drive at high speeds as if he has ice water in his veins, but since he’s just as expressionless outside his car, there are no sparks when he interacts with other characters.” Indeed, O’Neal has exactly one slightly modulated expression throughout this film.

DVD Savant as amusingly forthright in his take on O’Neal’s performance, noting that:

[Unlike Steve McQueen], Ryan O’Neal [is] a featherweight whose presence doesn’t dominate scenes. There’s no particular reason for tough gangsters to be intimidated by The Driver, for the cops to respect him, or the girl to be moved by just standing near him. For this gambit to work, the soul-sick look on the actor’s face must be fulfilling in itself, as it is in the case of Jean Gabin, Robert Ryan or even Charles Bronson.

Peary adds that “the most disappointing scenes are those in which [O’Neal] gets together with the equally reserved Isabelle Adjani and both are as cool and exciting as cucumbers.”

Peary points out that “Hill’s at his best directing action scenes”; however, while the film’s car chases are “excitingly filmed”, they’re also “too long and repetitive.”

I’m in agreement with Peary’s review: there’s plenty of action here, but O’Neal’s dull protagonist gives us nothing to hold onto. While we’d love to root for “brutal, slightly unhinged Las Vegas cop Bruce Dern,” he’s a bit of a d**k so that doesn’t feel quite right, either. I’m a much bigger fan of Hill’s follow-up cult film, The Warriors (1979).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Philip Lathrop’s cinematography
  • Impressively filmed and edited car chase sequences
  • Excellent use of location shooting in downtown Los Angeles

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a one-time look for its cult status.


One thought on “Driver, The (1978)

  1. First viewing (4/1/21). Not must-see, but fans of this type of crime / action flick will have interest.

    The film starts out well – with an impressive chase sequence that illustrates why O’Neal is one of the best at what he does. (This and the similar – though more elaborately orchestrated – sequence that gives the film its climax are the best things about the film.)

    It gets a bit too talky for a while – but midway there’s a cool twist that leads to a somewhat more complicated second half. There are a few blips in logic, which can be easily overlooked.

    Reviews were particularly harsh, with the film being called everything from “ultraviolet trash” (LA Times) to “awful… pretentious… silly” (NY Times). Those are misreadings of the film, I think. According to Wikipedia, Hill says he was “interested to see how ‘pure’ a film [I] could make: a genre film that did not conform itself in conventional, Hollywood ways.” He more or less succeeded; it’s different enough to be a surprise.

    Still, it comes up a bit short, esp. the somewhat-rushed ending.

    It’s interesting that Hill cites Edward Hopper as the major influence on the film. I don’t see that manifest exactly except occasionally in some of the downtime scenes.

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