Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Driver (1978)

"I respect a man who's good at what he does." That line from Bruce Dern midway through this film defines the entire thing: You are what you do, and you do what you are. (Ryan O'Neal IS The Driver -- no other names are needed.) Walter Hill's thriller of a crime drama gets down to the bone in every way. Everything that's in the film is there because it needs to be, and every action in the film is done because that's what that person does. For example: When Isabelle Adjani is asked why she covered for O'Neal in a police lineup, she responds that she needed the money. That's so simple and easy, yet most other films wouldn't think to go that route. Hill's script remains true to his characters the whole way, resulting in an action film that transcends the limits of most. By getting down to the essence of things, Hill is able to stare machismo in the face and understand it. It's manly men and their manly pride going mano a mano (cowardice is punished time and again, like in the bookend games of chicken), and watching these heads butt is fraught with tension. Dern and O'Neal know what they want and know how to do it, yet the narrative is driven (excuse the pun) by them knowingly going against their natures; each of them says "I don't like it" when given a plan, yet they go along anyway because it's part of the game. The camera sits and watches them get involved in things they shouldn't -- Hill's directorial style is very plain and basic. There's no fancy camera moves or tricky editing; rather, it's all simplicity (the better to see you with). The exception to this, of course, is during the film's chase scenes, which are myriad and brilliant. There the camera goes crazy, whipping in and out of traffic and over cars and through windows and such. It's an expression of the two combatants in the film: they only feel alive and excited when they're chasing or being chased. That is, after all, what they do.

Grade: A-


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