Blu-ray Review: The Driver

STUDIO: Twilight Time | DIRECTOR: Walter Hill| CAST: Ryan O’Neal, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani, Ronee Blakley, Matt Clark
BLU-RAY RELEASE DATE: 7/23/2013 | PRICE: Blu-ray $29.95
BONUSES: alternate opening, isolated score track
SPECS: PG | 89 min. | Action crime drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

There was a time—think back, now—when crime dramas, thrillers, hell, even action films, were accented by their action scenes, and not just formatted to a template that delivered an action scene by the clock every 8-10 minutes. That said, I submit to you The Driver, the 1978 crime thriller directed by Walter Hill (The Long Riders) which offers two outstanding car chases and a handful of smaller automotive bits. And the sequences, all stunningly mounted, unspool for maximum effect at just the right time!

The Driver movie scene

Ryan O’Neal is the man behind the wheel in Walter Hill’s The Driver.

In writer/director Hill’s second feature, Ryan O’Neal (Barry Lyndon) is “The Driver,” L.A.’s best wheel man in the business when it comes to getaway car driving. After pulling off his latest  job, “The Detective,” a determined cop who’s willing to go to any length to bring him down, is hot on his trail. (Oh, all the characters in the film are referred to by their roles—The Driver, The Detective, and even a crafty woman known as The Player, portrayed by Ishtar’s Isabelle Adjani). The Detective becomes so obsessed that he sets up a bank job in order to entice, trap, and ultimately arrest, The Driver, as if he doesn’t have enough problems servicing the deceptive bad guys who are planning the heist…

With its low-key character development and lean, mean dialogue and its furious car chases, The driver owes as much to Jean-Pierre Melville as it does to Peter Yates’ Bullitt (on which Hill served as an uncredited second assistant director). And the film’s L.A. exteriors have never looked cooler than they do in Twilight Time’s new high-definition rendering. (The city is never actually identified as Los Angeles, but we know L.A. when we see it.)

Also part of the package is an isolated music track featuring the moody work of composer Michael Small, who’s been dubbed “The Poet of Paranoia” for his subtle yet potent scores for such slow-boil Seventies thrillers as The Marathon Man and Night Moves. There’s also a exuberant essay by film scholar Julie Kirgo, who notes that young filmmaker James Cameron was reported so taken by Hill and cinematographer Philip Lathrop’s method of mounting the camera on the fender for the car chases that he did it himself a few years later for The Terminator.

Also newly release by Twilgiht Time is a gorgeous Blu-ray edition of Hill’s directorial debut, 1975’s Hard Times, starring Charles Bronson as a Depression-era street fighter working his way through New Orleans and James Coburn as the fast-talking promoter whose big mouth keeps getting them into trouble.

The Driver and Hard Times and all other Twilight Time titles are available directly from distributor Screen Archives

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.