The Driver is the story of an unnamed getaway driver who is chased by a rotten detective trying to stop him. The two are involved in a series of double crosses and games as they try to retrieve some stolen loot from a recent heist. In the midst of all, the player, a mysterious woman plays one man against another.
The Driver influenced Drive (2011). It is a little known movie starring Ryan O’Neal in the role of Driver that is one of the best car chase film from the 1970s and a Spartan crime noir story. The Driver is a quiet man who says little. As I argued in my recent review of Drive, if you think that the hero played by Ryan Gosling in that movie was taciturn and the strong silent type, you haven’t seen O’Neal’s driver. Gosling is like a 14 year-old girl compared to O’Neal. He says little but has a very limited range of emotions which make his character shadier.
The Driver was written and directed by Walter Hill who had trained as an assistant director on similar films like Bullitt (1968), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and as a writer for The Getaway (1972). The Driver did not do well in theatre and was blamed as the reason French actress Isabelle Adjani who was the Player, did not work much in American films for years. The cast was blamed as being too lacklustre and needing a main star like Steve McQueen to play the Driver.
Regardless of the recriminations, this film is great. Let’s look at the car chases. The car chases show us a driver who is not afraid to use his car as a weapon and much like a medieval knight, he will confront the police and other opponents to test their wills until they inevitably fail. So the car chases in this film are not just feats of speed. They are feats of wills where one car fight another one with real shots. My favourite shot is the “demo” the Driver performs for potential clients who want to hire him for a heist.
Because of its mediocre reputation The Driver has almost no extras. There are no comments or interviews with some of the actors and the director. However, there are an alternate widescreen and formatted screen versions of the film on each sides of the DVD and an alternate beginning. This movie gets no love from Hollywood, yet if you are a fan of the classic crime noir car chase movie, The Driver has to be on your shelf and viewed carefully and religiously. It’s a favourite of mine.
P.S. The Late film critic Roger Ebert trashed The Driver yet gave a nearly perfect rating to Drive. It's because of his input that The Driver has been relegated to B movie status in film history when it should be up there with Bullit and The French Connection (1978).