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July 2014

The Driver

cast: Ryan O'Neal, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani, Matt Clark, and Ronee Blakley

director: Walter Hill

89 minutes (15) 1978
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Studio Canal blu-ray region B
[released 14 July]

RATING: 8/10
review by Steven Hampton

The Driver

Outlaw characters with various brands of expertise in a cult-worthy movie... A cross-genre blend of urban western and modern noir... Dialogue so hip, it's iconic, not clichéd. A bar called Torchy's. Oh, yes... This can only be a Walter Hill thriller.

"He's the reason I've got the rush on."

With nameless roles in an escalating conflict, The Driver explores an extremely dangerous set of circumstances in the Los Angeles underworld. The entire cast are excellent. Ryan O'Neal is the quietly spoken getaway driver following his own unwritten code. Bruce Dern is the garrulous police detective in a mood for breaking all the rules. Isabelle Adjani is the 'player' who is drawn into their developing feud. In the stunning car chases, tyres screech and sirens wail - but there is no music (a formal style clearly inspired by Peter Yates' Bullitt, 1968).

"So tight that there's no room for anything else."

While the crooked cop enjoys his chatty monologues, the stoical anti-hero exudes crazy cowboy confidence - demonstrating his precision driving skills by casually wrecking an orange Mercedes in an underground car park. His stunt costs no lives and car's the passengers are left shaken, but otherwise unharmed, as proof of the driver's ability at risk management. When the detective concocts a sting to catch the rogue cowboy, the stage is set for a showdown on mean back streets.

"Winners, losers, how it happened, score."

It's the sporty desperado versus the gamer with a badge. A cascade of betrayals takes its toll upon most of the supporting characters. The grand finale's duel on wheels, with its electrifying scenes of racing along dark alleys and prowling through a warehouse, is both a getaway and a relentless pursuit in a stunt-driving showcase that's still impressive for its obvious reality, and complete lack of any safety-conscious CGI enhancements that gives today's movies of road rage - like the spectacular A Good Day To Die Hard - the look and style of live-action cartoons, by comparison.

The Driver provided a template for more recent cool movies such as Nicolas Winding Refn's neon-lit Drive, and the ultra-slick Transporter franchise (starring Jason Statham). Hill's classic can also be seen as a profound influence upon the career of director Michael Mann, as the underworld of The Driver re-appeared in Mann's Thief (1981), and Heat (1995) - and its TV movie version titled L.A. Takedown - in particular, among Mann's best work in the crime story and action genres.



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