The Driver

The Driver (1978)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani, Ronee Blakley
Extras: Alternate Beginning, Trailer

Nowadays, it is hard to understand that throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, director Walter Hill was considered one of the most original, talented American directors. An action-junkies’ darling and a venerated figure among film cultists, Hill was touted as the next Sam Peckinpah (Hill actually wrote Peckinpah’s "The Getaway"). Like the always fascinating Peckinpah, Hill excelled in the action film genre, but his zesty style seems to be a creation of his own. In his filmography, we can find exceptionally good films like "Hard Times" (1975) and "The Long Riders" (1980), and cult classics like "Streets of Fire" (1984) and "The Warriors" (1979). "The Driver" is probably his most interesting film and if you have not seen this mini-masterpiece of action and suspense, you are in for a nice treat. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released the film as part of the studio’s new low budget collection, sporting a sparkling new <$PS,widescreen> transfer.

"The Driver" has a seemly simple storyline: a nameless professional thief who is a genius when it comes to stealing cash, running away with the loot and eluding the authorities. He plans the heist to end all heists. Ryan O’Neal is "the-thief-with-no-name," a mysterious crime figure, who seems to be a living-proof that crime does pay. O’Neal is a bland actor, but director Hill knows that, and he uses the actor’s natural lack of charisma to the film’s advantage. O’Neal’s emotionless performance helps give his character an aura of great coolness and mystery. In order to create contrast, Hill gives O’Neal a flamboyant adversary in the form of actor Bruce Dern, who plays the "good guy" obsessed with capturing O’Neal. It is a match made in hell, and the film neatly exploits these two actors’ wildly diverse acting styles.

"The Driver" has lots of hair-rising action sequences, but the film is anchored by the struggle of two men at opposite sides of the law, each one trying to outsmart the other. In the midst of car chases and the cat-and-mouse game played by the two main characters, director Hill creates what could be described as the first existential caper movie. In less than 90 minutes, the movie not only works as an in-depth exploration of the things that motivate humans to do what they do, but also, the movie operates as an interesting study in survival. This not your typical good guys vs. bad guys kind of movie; the story deals with ideas that transcends the film’s tightly constructed arc.

"The Driver" is presented in a 1.85:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> format (B side of the disc). Dirt, scratches, and other imperfections are almost completely absent from the print. The transfer remains uniformly good throughout the duration of the film. Although colors are far from weak, at first glance the fleshtones appear to look a little bit dull. This is not a problem related to the source material and/or the transfer – the film’s very dark settings offer a palette that is limited in range by nature. However, during the daylight sequences the natural intensity of the palette of colors can be appreciated much better. Overall, every sequence remains decidedly clear, with edges appropriately sharp, and great attention to detail and form. There is an alternative <$PS,pan&scan> version on the A side of the disc.

The film features a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 sound track. This is an action driven drama, and the movie could have benefited from a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. However, sound effects and very incidental music, are handled well by the transfer. The dialogue is delivered as natural and as clear as possible. Although limited, the track is appropriately dynamic in some key moments throughout the film (especially during the endless chase sequences). There are no apparent problems (like hiss or other audio imperfections). This is a very serviceable track that offers the exact amount of quality needed to provide a very satisfying experience.

The film’s original theatrical trailer is one of two extras offered by the disc, found on the B side of the DVD. This trailer looks a little worn out, with a few scratches, but it is almost at the level of quality of the feature film.

An "Alternative Beginning" can be found on the other side of the disc (A side of the disc). This is mainly a brief prologue that was filmed, but was later discarded by director Walter Hill. It is very interesting to compare both beginnings.

Fox has done a good job with this interesting action film – one of the great films from the 1970s. With almost no promotion, this disc was quietly squeezed into the DVD market – at a retail price of less than $10 dollars! This above average presentation truly deserves some attention. Although not as popular as other films from the same period, Fox managed to present "The Driver" in the best possible way in the DVD format.