Review: THE DRIVER (1978)

By Darin Skaggs

Walter Hill’s The Driver stars Ryan O’Neil as the aforementioned Driver. He plays the getaway vehicle in many robberies on banks or clubs. He is the best at this; he clearly has every street figured out, he knows just how long it takes to get from here to there and if you’re not as precise as him, you are out of his good graces. He is so good no one can catch him. A determined detective played by Bruce Dern, takes that as a challenge and becomes obsessed with finding evidence against our driver character to get him into jail. Alas the driver is too good and this creates a fun, tense ride to see who will come out with a victory and who will finish dead last. The Driver is for sure an interesting movie. It becomes clear this is a Western, only with car chases. At a point you know Ryan O’Neil’s character is never going to get caught. He is an odd character, never really showing any emotion. He never goes after the pretty female characters in the film, it seems he never eats or sleeps. He is played as some sort of invincible man whose only aspiration in life is to drive and he may not even want to do that. On the other spectrum is Bruce Dern’s detective character, a man with just as much determination as The Driver, but missing a God like talent. He knows The Driver will never be caught either, but that doesn’t stop him. Dern plays this man with a ton energy, he is chewing the scenery so much you can almost see the smile on Dern’s face with all the fun he is having. It is a perfect mirror image to O’Neil’s cold, emotionless performances. The second half of this picture takes a glimpse into why O’Neil never shows us any sympathy or empathy. A couple of bank robbers, who are double agents for the detective, run into some trouble and it ends in violence. We realize in this moment that The Driver has seen his fair share of violent acts. His talent is one that calls to work with bad people so to cope he has to lose all emotional connection to the world. He doesn’t even care about money at the time we meet him. He seems to be on auto-pilot, just doing what he knows best. He knows if he is caught, he can’t do that anymore either. So he just continues to drive, and that is it. A hotel worker says he can pay an extra dollar for a television and The Driver doesn’t seem to care. And even sadder is when he is in danger of being caught he has resort to violence. Much like the cowboys of the Western genre he is forced to be thick skinned and have little to no relationship with other human beings. He does ride off with a gal, but we all know not much will come from this. The Driver is a fun movie, it makes shooting car chases look easy. The performances are incredibly entertaining. Dern is maybe having a better time than any of us. The film is a look into being good at something that could lead to bad things and how it could leave someone cold and distant while still being quality entertainment.

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