The Driver (1978) Directed by Walter Hill.

So I certainly was not thrilled when I opened Nick's mail (oops!) and found The Driver DVD. Cars, guns, bad graphics in black and white...Nick explained that this was a classic 1970s film, which he thought Drive was actually based on. I decided to give it a miss until one recent night I was too tired to actually argue and thought that this brainless piece would allow me to go to sleep more quickly.
Turns out I did not fall asleep.

I felt quite empathic to this little old-fashioned lad's movie. I loved the thrilling driving scenes, which obviously were much more authentic than anything in 2011. I kind of dug the impressionless acting of Ryan O'Neal, who managed to remind me of Heath Ledger.

And the general pace and framing of the movie were kind of straight-forward in a way that was rewarding. Maybe it's just time doing its tricks, but I feel that this kind of understatement is nonexistent in films these days. Everyone's always pushing everything to maximum effect, emotions, effects, looks, name it, it has been supersized.

There really is nothing deep and puzzling about The Driver. Yet, there's an elegance in every scene. As I watched O'Neal driving through the streets of Los Angeles in his various get-away-cars  I remembered playing some computer game where I drove a rally car in LA. The game animation looked very similar to the scenes in the movie. I also thought about Los Angeles at night. The evenings when the only way to go home is to hitch a ride with a person who shouldn't be driving because they are too drunk. How the city truly shimmers and shines in the dark. I don't like being so reliant on cars and driving – but there's a magic to LA and its practical, yet mystical relationship to cars.

It's inconceivable that Nicolas Winding Refn hadn't watched The Driver before he directed Drive. The opening scenes of both movies are identical, Drive pays tribute to its initial inspiration in the most obvious way – homage. After the beginning, Drive becomes something else in comparison to The Driver, which is a shame for Refn's film. Drive has the hipster soundtrack for sure, but it's lacking the dry cool minimalism that The Driver possesses.

Adjani & O'Neal 
Ryan O'Neal on paper is a poor choice for the lead role in The Drive. Peyton Place, Love Story and even the great Paper Moon doesn't prepare us for the virtually silent, cool as they come customer we meet in The Driver. Perhaps Kubrick showed us something with his use of O'Neal in Barry Lyndon – of O'Neal's possibilities. Either way, he's excellent as The Driver of the title. He's given extra standing by fraternising with the even cooler Isabelle Adjani. The cast is rounded out by Bruce Dern as the dry yet corrupt cop on getaway driver O'Neal's heels. To give you something about The Driver's aims, no characters have names. O'Neal is The Driver, Adjani The Player whilst Dern is The Detective (and so on for most of the cast). Walter Hill cranks up the intensity of this dark LA Noir by giving us a couple of loud car-chases that never bore us but excite. And the destruction of a Mercedes in an underground car park is something else.

It's fair to say the the reputation of The Driver has only increased over the years (no doubt helped by Refn's picture). What is emerging is that Walter Hill remains one of the great unsung directors/writers/producers of the 1970s onwards. He scripted Peckinpah's The Getaway, is behind the Alien franchise and the excellent Deadwood series (as well as many other great directed efforts). The Driver remains one of the last gasps of the New Hollywood ideology on film. It shows us what is possible with this modern Noir genre. No one else has expanded on The Driver's mantle (although Michael Mann's cinema has some relation). The Driver has the air of a masterpiece.


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