Drivers’ Cinema: The Driver (1978)
The Driver (1978), directed by Walter Hill, is a film about the best getaway driver in Los Angeles, played by Ryan O’Neal. The Driver has never been caught, but one cop, played by Bruce Dern, intends to put him away for good, which means lots of 1970s-style car chases. The film opens with a getaway following a casino robbery, when two men jump into the back of The Driver’s car, leading to a chase through downtown, smoking tires and all. And while Dern’s performance may not be entirely convincing, it’s easy to dismiss the bad acting with so much impressive driving on display.
The 1974 Ford Galaxie 500 featured in the opening scene, however, is anything but impressive. The body is in less than perfect shape and the paint is noticeably faded. The Driver, nevertheless, maneuvers the big car like a bat out of hell. The next time he is behind the wheel, he is doing stunts in a parking lot with a bright orange 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280 S (W108). Prior to this viewing I would have never believed the car could slalom between concrete poles at such speeds. Now that I’ve seen it, I don’t think I’ll ever look at that car the same way. The last notable vehicle in the film is a 1976 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. There is a lengthy chase at the end featuring this particular car, and I had a smile on my face the whole way through.
Cinematically, this film takes full advantage of the car’s rear window as a vantage point. In all of the chase scenes the audience is brought to the rear of the car to witness the pursuit, delivering a realistic sense of the high speeds at which the cars are traveling. Seeing the cars right on your tail has you subconsciously pressing the gas down further. The film also makes good use of low angles on the front of the car, reminiscent of the famous short film C’était un Rendez-vous (1976).
While O’Neal’s character makes unlikely heroes out of some fairly unspectacular machinery, it’s the nonchalant demeanor with which he does this that really sells him as a true badass, giving The Driver a deserved spot in our Drivers’ Cinema pantheon. If you’re in the mood to watch some impressive driving and feel the rush of driving a getaway car, then flip on The Driver.
Click here to pick up the DVD from Amazon.