Walter Hill's so-stylish-it-hurts 1978 film The Driver is less a true caper flick than it is a love letter to the art of filmmaking an 80-minute essay on everything that Hill loves about directors like Jean-Pierre Melville and Raoul Walsh, stripping clean the narrative form of the typical action-chase flick and savoring the language of cinema. Ryan O'Neal plays a nameless getaway specialist chased by an obsessed detective (Bruce Dern) determined to catch him all costs. Hill, a screenwriter who dipped his toes into directing as assistant on The Thomas Crown Affair and Bullitt (both 1968), had previously helmed the less-seen Hard Times (1975) starring James Coburn and Charles Bronson. Here, he obviously wanted to make a film that was pure visual storytelling and he did a crackerjack job. The characters The Driver, The Detective, The Player, The Connection are archetypes in the style of Howard Hawks or Sergio Leone, each fairly one-dimensional and striving for easily conceived goals. Dialogue is at a minimum, with O'Neal's driver speaking only when absolutely necessary, doing the talking with his car the same way Leone's gunfighters did their talking with their pistols (and like Keanu Reeves, frankly, O'Neal's always at his best when he's not saying much anyway). There's not a lot to the plot besides the cat-and-mouse game between corrupt cop and "cowboy" getaway driver, save a side trip by O'Neal to romance the stunning Isabelle Adjani. What we have is a gorgeous series of lean, mean scenes, just enough to keep the story moving forward, with the superb chase sequences creating the high points. In one beautifully executed scene, The Driver takes potential employers (and us) on a destructive high-speed joy ride through a parking garage when they question his skills. It's not a perfect film O'Neal is an unexceptional actor and Adjani is given little to do beyond looking sultry but as an example of how a good director and a crack editor can put together a sleek, efficient, bare-bones action film, this is one of the best. Fox's DVD release of The Driver offers up a decent anamorphic transfer (1.78:1) not great, with good color saturation and nice contrast (particularly in the night scenes) that's still a bit grimy with some dust specks with a few scenes showing notable damage to the source print. The full-screen version is available on the flip side. The audio is merely serviceable, in monaural Dolby 2.0 (English only). No extras, save an alternate beginning which would have destroyed any initial mystery about Adjani's character and bored the viewers with unnecessary Bruce Dern exposition. Keep-case.
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