Ryan O’Neal is a high octane hellion in THE DRIVER
Director Walter Hill is one of our heroes at Furious Cinema, so thats why we’ll be commenting on many of his film trailers in the future. I wanted to start out with his 1978 crime action thriller neo noir The Driver because we haven’t covered it on the site yet and it’s one of our favorites out of all his work.
“My line of work is kind of hard to come by.”
THE DRIVER was Hill’s follow up to his debut HARD TIMES (1975). Like in that film and Alain Delon in Jean-Pierre Melville’s LE SAMOURAI (1967) the main character is the consumate rebel, speaking very rarely (only 350 words uttered in all) and lives on his own terms. The film was originally written for Steve McQueen (see Bullitt) but later Ryan O’Neal took on the role. THE DRIVER (his only given name) is a shady character that takes jobs driving getaway cars for robberies. If the set up sounds familiar, that’s because it was basically remade as DRIVE with another Ryan a couple years ago. For my money, I prefer the original, it has no 80’s synth rock (NOTE: DRIVER’s music of choice is light sounds of country music on a little transistor radio) or gory violence but that doesn’t matter, it just blows the doors off the other film.
The structure of THE DRIVER is about as straight forward as it gets. He is being pursued by THE DETECTIVE played by Bruce Dern, who gives one of his great tough as nails performances as the cop who will do anything to get the bad guy, even break the law by setting up a bank job so he can trap his prey who he often refers to as “Cowboy”. O’Neal and Dern have several face/offs in the movie and every one is intense and fun to watch. THE DETECTIVE tries to scare DRIVER by telling him he’s going to get caught etc but is just met with icy cold stares and wiseass retorts. Ryan O’Neal plays the mysterious Man With No Name character as good as anyone in this. Isabelle Adjani is THE PLAYER who is stuck in the middle since she’s the only one who can identify DRIVER because she witnessed the robbers jumping in his getaway car. The two soon fall in love and that provides the romantic element to the otherwise high octane tale.
The plot is really just a set up for the fantastic car chases and other stunts and they remain some of the greatest put on film. You really feel the extreme excitement and tension when they happen as DRIVER expertly evades the law and does some other pretty crazy stuff behind the wheel.
When it comes to that classic 70s cinema people are always talking about (including us), this film ranks right up with the very best.