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On July 28, 1978, 20th Century Fox released The Driver, a car chase thriller starring Ryan O’Neal and Bruce Dern, in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
It is difficult to imagine just what Walter Hill had in mind when he wrote the screenplay for The Driver. An existential car chase movie to end all car chase movies? (If only that were true!) His script couldn’t have numbered more than 25 pages, so devoted is this movie to getaways, pursuits and grisly crashes. When you see this picture, you know why there’s a gas shortage.
But that’s about all you know. Hill’s characters — primarily Ryan O’Neal, Bruce Dern and Isabelle Adjani — are so laconic they could well be played by mutes. Or catatonics. As director, Hill permits them some of the longest unpregnant pauses in movie history. For the first half-hour or so, you wonder what they’re all about. After that, you’d just as soon not find out. Nor do you — not really. O’Neal is obviously a professional getaway driver for big-time crooks, and uptight young man with nerves of steel — and rocks in his head. Else why on earth would he deliberately plant evidence of his participation in a heist and high-speed chase that demolished at least a half-dozen cop cars? Just to make the even more uptight Dern — the most sadistic movie cop since The Choirboys — a bit more paranoid?
At least we do know that Adjani had plugged into O’Neal’s getaway scheme for the money, although it’s hard to believe that such an attractive young lady couldn’t make a more legitimate buck. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t speak English very well.
In other words, while we can readily identify these characters, we can’t identify with them simply because Hill never bothers to tell us what makes them tick. Symptomatically, they are identified in the titles simply as The Driver, The Detective, The Player (Adjani), The Connection (Ronee Blakley), etc. Is Hill being existential, or is he perhaps more interested in getting those wheels in motion than in cranking up a plot that has real people in it?
Unfortunately, the action passages share this same mechanical quality. Possibly we have all seen too many chases at this point; but the stunts, credited to Everett Creach, seem predictably familiar, right down to the last tire screech. In fact, the major assets of this 20th Century-Fox/EMI presentation would seem to be Harry Horner’s suitably somber settings and Philip Lathrop’s chiaroscuro lighting. Between them they capture something of Raymond Chandler’s “mean streets” ambience, which is a good deal more than this thin, humorless movie deserves. — Arthur Knight, originally published on July 26, 1978
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