While classic 40s and 50s Noirs, along with French auteur Jean-Pierre Melville, remain the ultimate benchmarks for existential thrillers, a singularly compelling breed of lean, muscular, taciturn and ambiguous action-thrillers with existential undertones made their presences felt in 70s American (and British) cinema, the likes of which include Sorcerer, Bullitt, The French Connection, Get Carter, Point Blank, etc. Walter Hill’s 2nd directorial venture The Driver – the 2017 film Baby Driver was possibly a direct homage to it – was an interesting, albeit lesser-known, example of that breed. To leave no one in doubt regarding its characters’ ambiguities, Hill turned them into abstractions and left their names unsaid – the eponymous Driver (Ryan O’Neal), a poker-faced loner who’s a master at getaways for heists and holdups, thanks to his insane driving skills, and for which he’s the go-to man for criminals; his key adversary is the Detective (Bruce Dern), a cocky, arrogant cop who’s obsessed with catching the former in the act, and hatches an utterly illegal plan by enlisting a gang of felons in order to get his man; and the Player (Isabelle Adjani), an enigmatic drop-dead beaut, who could’ve put the plug on the Driver, but becomes an ally to him instead for curious reasons of her own. The minimalist, stripped-down, and lustily photographed film (Phillip Lathrop) boasts of a number of spectacular car-chase sequences shot across LA – it begins with a kinetic nocturnal escape, and has another near its climax where the Driver plays the chaser instead; and not to forget, a flamboyant garage sequence where, in a rare fit of passive-aggressive outburst, he destroys a dashing Rolls on being asked justify his paycheck.
Director: Walter Hill
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Post-Noir