Jarv’s Birthday Series: The Driver (1978)

When I was growing up, for some reason that I can’t really remember, I always wanted to own a Pontiac Firebird. Now, as an adult, I know better and that there is almost no good reason on God’s green and verdant Earth to want to drive an American car. Basically, if you want to drive something that weighs the same as the QE2, has the handling of a brick, the petrol consumption of a thirsty rhino, brakes that Europe discarded for being crap about 30 years ago,  and isn’t even particularly fast then an American car is the way to go. The reason I say “almost”, is that they do look damned cool. Still, all in all, I’d rather have an Aston Martin, and as it’s nearly my birthday, instead of giving me the complete works of Kate Hudson, feel free to club together to buy me one. Anyhow, as I kick off this heinously misguided series, the first film was released on my actual date of birth in France, and features lots of cool American cars being driven fast.

Walter Hill is a severely underrated film-maker. He’s got an absolutely splendid CV, but I challenge anyone (not called ContinentalOp) to name 5 of his films without looking. Admittedly there is the odd stinker on there (looking at you Last Man Standing), but as a rule, if you see his name on a film, then at the very least it will be interesting. The Driver was only his second film, but is an absolutely splendid slice of noir, with hard-boiled morally dubious characters and no clear hero or villain.

The Driver is about, to state the fucking obvious, The Driver played by human slab of mahogany Ryan O’Neal. The Driver is a consummate criminal that makes his living from driving getaway cars in jobs organised by The Connection (Ronnee Blakley). The Detective (Bruce Dern) has a boner for The Driver, and is desperate to catch him. To that end, he organises an elaborate sting operation to bust The Driver in the act. Unfortunately, the goons he hires (Glasses, played by Joseph Walsh) are unreliable scumbags and try to steal the cash for themselves. The Driver manages to come away with the money, and with the help of The Player (the gorgeous Isabelle Adjani) attempts to launder the cash. I won’t spoil the rest of the film, but there are twists and turns aplenty.

The first thing to note is that all the characters in this are morally dubious. The Driver and Glasses are obviously criminals, so there’s no surprise there, but even The Detective is a prize-winning cock. He’s arrogant, corrupt and not above a bit of light torture to gain information. The Player is a throwback to earlier times, and were this made in the 50’s you can really see Lauren Baccall in the part. I can give no higher praise to this film than that. The writing, aside from the character work, is sparse. Dialogue is, in particular, kept to a minimum with The Driver himself speaking less than 350 words in the whole film. This, actually, is great. I really like the “strong silent type” hero, and I wish more films would do this rather than casting Shia Laboeuf to run his mouth off for the entire film. Green Hornet, for example, would have been infinitely better with less of Rogen’s gob.

The acting is as sparse and hard-boiled as the writing. O’Neal in particular has never been better and I honestly think this is the only film I’ve seen him in that uses his table-like presence properly. I’m sure he’s trying to remember his lines, and that’s why he’s so silent so often, but it makes him into a brooding, calculating presence on-screen. You know this is a cool customer that weighs up all his options and always has a back-up plan. Dern is in fine form as the Detective (he really does play a prick well), and Adjani smoulders on the screen. There’s some really good noir acting here.

There’s a lot of action in this film, well, a lot of car chases. I have to say that the opening chase is damned exciting and features some superb stunt work. The closing chase, however, with the Driver’s shitty truck chasing down a Trans-Am is fucking riveting. You know that he’s obviously going to catch the two dickheads, but this really is a stupendously shot sequence. The car chases aren’t in the same league as Bullit or The French Connection, but this is because The Driver is set in an “unnamed city” and filmed in LA which isn’t anywhere near as photogenic as San Francisco- particularly not for car chases.

This is also a really atmospheric film. It’s seedy and grimy and the world of the Driver oozes off the screen. The credit for this has to go to Hill, as the direction here is as sparse and tight as everything else in the film. He’s got his actors on a tight leash here, and although Dern does chew a bit of scenery on occasion, this is fine because everyone else is almost underplaying their part. Hill never allows the complicated plot or elaborate chases to get away from him, everything is understated and, as a direct result, cool as fuck.

Overall, this was a pleasant and enjoyable way to kick off this series of 33 films. I was losing hope a wee bit for the first one, but it always warms the cockles of my heart when I find a film I’ve never heard of and it turns out to be good. I do recommend this one, as both a slice of noir and an excellent car chase film, and I do believe it’s the only film I’ve seen with Ryan O’Neal in it that doesn’t suck a giant cock. I give it 3 Pontiac Firebird Logos out fo 4.

Next up is the first undisputed classic in the list. 1979’s seminal Life of Brian, a film that caused a completely unjustified furore in this country on release and one of the finest comedies ever created.

So, until tomorrow,

Jarv.

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

75 responses to “Jarv’s Birthday Series: The Driver (1978)”

  1. Jarv says :

    Aaaaaand WE’RE OFF.

    I’m going to regret this.

  2. Xiphos0311 says :

    Isn’t Aston Martin owned Ford?

    • Jarv says :

      Haven’t a clue.

      It’s designed and built here though. And they look great, go really fast and can go round corners. Something that American cars can’t do.

      A guy in our building owns one.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        yeah you want to drive a Ford.

      • Jarv says :

        Considering GM, FIat, Volkswagon and one other own almost every single car-marque outside of Japan, you’ve got to go with one of them.

        Still, though, on the basis that it’s not designed or built in America, and certainly doesn’t look like an American car, it isn’t American. Just owned by America. Like almost everything else here that isn’t owned by China.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        It’s a Ford they stamp their corporate culture over anything they own. Fords standard corporate practice is to manufacture core motor parts in North America.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        apparently Ford sold off Aston Martin in 2007.

      • Jarv says :

        Who owns it now? The Chinese?

      • Jarv says :

        The Welsh.

        Yikes.

  3. Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

    Is this the film that the new Ryan Gosling – Nikolas Rehn Danishbloke are doing. Thats called Driver too, I think.

    Sounds interesting anyway

  4. Droid says :

    5 Walter Hill films without looking…

    1. 48 Hours (Also the sequel)
    2. Red Heat
    3. The Warriors
    4. That Michael Pare musical one I watched recently
    5. Last Man Standing

  5. Droid says :

    I’ve got this at home. Need to watch it sometime. Sounds good.

    O’Neal was good in Barry Lyndon (which I really like but bores most people), and he was also good in a small role in Zero Effect.

  6. Droid says :

    We had to get rid of our Mustang when I was 4 or 5, because we moved to an area that had unpaved roads. I’m not much of a car guy, but I’ve always wanted to own a Mustang myself.

    • Jarv says :

      When Me and Mrs. Jarv were in California we rented a soft-top Mustang.

      Looked fabulous. Drove like shit. The Brakes failed TWICE, it had a top speed of about 7, the turning circle of an ocean liner and was severely uncomfortable.

      Crap car.

      Having said that, I did also want a Corvette when I was young.

    • tombando says :

      *My father had a Firebird. Pricey parts car, looks good in the driveway, rode fast, ummmm you know the rest.

      *My brother had a ’76 Corvette Stingray. Pricey parts car, looks good in the driveway, rode fast, ummm you know the rest.

      *I had a 2002 Pontiac Grand Am. Pricey parts car, looked OK in the driveway, had a V-6, about as reliable as a 1988 Yugo.

      *Have never heard of this one. Will give it a whirl.

      *I have a Toyota now. Not so pricey car, def. not a parts car, looks bland as all get out in the driveway, will def. NOT be buying American anytime soon.

      *What do they drive in Wales ? besides the local livestock?

  7. just pillow talk says :

    Sounds good….I’ll have to add it to the queue.

    At least you started off smooth before you hit some pot holes on the way…

    • Jarv says :

      3 of the first 4 films are excellent with two genuine classics.

      Most of them are OK. Just when it’s bad it’s really, really bad.

      • just pillow talk says :

        There must be balance in the force..

        Seriously, what would be the odds you wouldn’t get some real stinkers?

        I think Wolfie and Koutch should do birthday series as well. Not sure if Xi would have the time…

      • Jarv says :

        If everyone eventually does one it could be hilarious.

      • Jarv says :

        Well, this is the full list with what I think next to them:

        2010 – Piranha 3D Excellent
        2009 – Der Baader Meinhof Komplex Excellent
        2008 – Death Race shite
        2007 – War Not seen
        2006 – Invincible Not seen
        2005 – The Cave shite
        2004 – Exorcist: The beginning shite
        2003 – My Boss’s Daughter Not seen
        2002 – Simone OK
        2001 – 0 Not seen
        2000 – Bring it On shite
        1999 – Teaching Mrs. Tingle shite
        1998 – Blade Excellent
        1997 – Mimic Excellent
        1996 – Freeway Excellent
        1995 – Desperado Good
        1994 – Natural Born Killers Excellent
        1993 – Hard Target Excellent
        1992 – Christopher Columbus: The Discovery Not seen
        1991 – Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man OK
        1990 – Darkman OK
        1989 – Millennium OK
        1988 – Married to the Mob shite
        1987 – Dirty Dancing shite
        1986 –Reform School Girls Not seen
        1985 – Teen Wolf Excellent
        1984 – Cal shite
        1983 – Fire and Ice shite
        1982 – Class of 1984 Excellent
        1981 – An American Werewolf in London Excellent
        1980 –Xanadu shite
        1979 – Life of Brian Excellent
        1978 – The Driver Excellent

      • Jarv says :

        So far the worst film I’ve seen is Xanadu. The most obnoxious one is Cal.

        Dirty Dancing is my most hated one. That’s getting a right kicking when I get to it.

      • just pillow talk says :

        War is shit.
        Invincible is good.

        At least you shit films don’t all pile up at once.
        I would say the 87-92 period is the most shit.

      • Jarv says :

        99-2008 is pretty fucking rotten as well.

        Still, though, there are a good few 4 Chang films in there to keep my spirits up.

      • just pillow talk says :

        Yeah, that’s true. I haven’t seen any of the films from 99-05.

        Score one for me I suppose.

      • Jarv says :

        Score lots. That Teaching Mrs Tingle shite is an abomination. As is Bring it On, but Bring it On has cheerleaders.

      • Continentalop says :

        Reform School Girl’s? I’ve seen that but can barely remember it. I know that Wendy O. Williams is in it and that it has an insane climax.

      • Jarv says :

        I’m about half an hour in and it’s absolutely mint.

      • Jarv says :

        “physical’s in 10 minutes so get naked ladies.”

        This is awesome.

      • Jarv says :

        These are the most unlikely looking convicts. They’re all basically soft porn actresses and sit around in their underwear.

      • Jarv says :

        Ha! She’s about 40. She’s about as much a reform school girl as Droid is.

        Woah! Stop the presses! CATFIGHT!

      • Continentalop says :

        Lot of nudity, right?

      • Continentalop says :

        Ha! She’s about 40. She’s about as much a reform school girl as Droid is.

        I’m betting that’s Wendy Williams.

      • Jarv says :

        Yup.

        Not much nudity so far. Lots of skimpy clothing though.

      • Jarv says :

        Fuck man. She was a crazy person.

        Williams had first attempted suicide in 1993 by hammering a knife into her chest; the knife lodged in her sternum and she changed her mind, calling Swenson to take her to hospital.[4] She attempted suicide again in 1997 with an overdose of ephedrine.[4]

      • Jarv says :

        Not much nudity. I’m surprised.

      • Jarv says :

        Huzzah! Pillow fight!!!

      • Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

        So where do you get the release date info for your birthday?

        I cant write for shit, but id be interested in what my birthday series might look like if I could. lol 12th September.

      • Jarv says :

        Couple of places. Wikipedia for the recent ones and the numbers for earlier ones checked against imdb.

      • Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

        Are there any rules? What if there are multiple releases on your birthday? Which one do you pick? What uf youve seen them?

        Questions, questions

      • Jarv says :

        I’ve just been going for closest to my Birthday. However, if I’ve got multiple options I go for one I’ve not seen.

      • Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

        What if I dont want to watch anything released on that date, coz its all shite! lol

      • Droid says :

        It doesn’t matter. You have to choose one. You can cheat, like Jarv and use foreign release dates to avoid a lot of the shit, or you can be a man, like me, and take the monster head on.

      • Jarv says :

        To be fair, though, I am watching Xanadu, Dirty Dancing, Bring it On, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, and a whole plethora of utter shit. So it isn’t like I’m ducking bullets here.

      • Continentalop says :

        Says the man who refuses to watch Anthropophagus, even though it was released near your birthday.

      • Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

        I’ve found a good website http://www.filmdates.co.uk/films/2003-09-12/ I just change the year in the url and off we go.

        I will man up for this Droid! But the multiple choice of gashness that is 2007 has given me quite the quandry!

      • Jarv says :

        There are serious hurdles everyone has to make it through on this trek. You should see some of the garbage I’ve got coming.

      • just pillow talk says :

        Ugh! If I look at my birthday, already knowing it will be the hardest path of any I bet, it’s pretty bad.

        Criteria: Must choose a movie if it falls on my b-day, pick never seen movie first, go for closest date after that with movie never seen if possible. Starts off so promising…

        2011 – The Eagle
        2010 – Valentine’s Day
        2009 – Friday the 13th
        2008 – Step Up 2: The Streets
        2007 – Daddy’s Little Girls
        2006 – Firewall
        2005 – Son of the Mask
        2004 – 50 First Dates
        2003 – Dark Blue
        2002 – John Q
        2001 – Down to Earth or Sweet November
        2000 – The Beach
        1999 – My Favorite Martian
        1998 – Sphere
        1997 – That Darn Cat
        1996 – Mr. Wrong
        1995 – Heavyweights
        1994 – Blank Check
        1993 – The Temp
        1992 – Wayne’s World
        1991 – Silence of the Lambs
        1990 – Revenge
        1989 – The Mighty Quinn
        1988 – Shoot to Kill
        1987 – 84 Charing Cross Road
        1986 – Turtle Diary
        1985 – Lost in America
        1984 – Lassiter
        1983 – Let’s Spend the Night Together
        1982 – The Beast Within / The Amateur
        1981 – The Dogs of War
        1980 – Hero at Large

        I have to stop now, because, really, I’m about to cry. The “seeing new movies” is what is really hurtful in some instances…

      • Jarv says :

        Shit pillows. That one’s horrible. That;s the worst of any of them so far.

      • Droid says :

        Wow. Pillows, that’s a fucking awful list. You must review them!

        You do have one of the best movies ever, in Silence of the Lambs. And The Eagle, Dark Blue and Wayne’s World are good.

        But then you have John Q, which is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Not to mention the crap I refuse to watch, like Valentines Day.

  8. koutchboom says :

    I wonder if the new Driver is some sort of semi remake/homage are something to this.

    • Droid says :

      It sounds to me like Faster is more of a remake/homage to this, with the character names. In that film,The Rocks’ name is Driver, the hitman is Killer, Billy Bob is Cop. And so on and so forth.

      • Jarv says :

        Might well be. This is based on Le Samurai, so faster may be another update of that.

      • Continentalop says :

        The Driver was heavily influenced by Mellville movies, especially Le Samurai, but I think the idea for names like The Driver and The Detective is from Two Lane Blacktop. I could be wrong.

  9. Continentalop says :

    Great review Jarv. I really like this movie and think Ryan O’Neal is pretty awesome in it as this cipher like character (I can only think of Barry Lyndon and Paper Moon as two other movies I liked him in).

    As for 5 Walter Hill movies, how about Hard Times, Southern Comfort, Johnny Handsome, Extreme Prejudice and the Long Riders. And he wrote the criminally neglected Hickey & Boggs (you should watch that for your Underrated series).

  10. Xiphos0311 says :

    Walter Hill Movie:

    1. The long Riders
    2. THE WARRIORS His best movie
    3. Hard times
    4. Streets of Fire second best
    5. Southern Comfort

    I loved this movie as a kid. The car gags were top notch, the atmosphere(before I knew what that word meant) was cool and the sparse dialogue was something I had not seen before. I then promptly forgot about it until 3 years ago when I went to a theme movie night at a specialty theater and it was of the movies they were showing. 30+ years later the Driver kicked my ass all over again. This is only one of two roles that Ryan O’Neil was any good in.

  11. Barfy says :

    Just a side note, originally the Mercedes, in one of the underground parking scenes, was supposed to be a Rolls. O’Neal wanted to do some of his own stunt driving, ended up not being very good at it and blew through the much more expensive cars. There were some white powdery substance issues. By the end of filming, the studio (20th) and producer were not on the best of terms but by that time the producer and Walter Hill were moving to Paramount to do The Warriors anyway. The way things work in Hollywood, less than 10 years later the producer became president of 20th.

    • Jarv says :

      I didn’t know that. I still don’t get why he wrecked the car in that scene.

      • Barfy says :

        As a “fuck you” to the guys that wanted to hire him yet questioned his rate and his expertise as a “driver”. To prove his badassness, after doing all the fancy speedy screechy spins, he took their car apart bit by bit.

        Not that it has any bearing on anything but those underground parking scenes were filmed at what used to be the ABC Entertainment Center, now Creative Artists Agency. It’s just that I’ve spent so much time looking for my car in that damned parking structure.

      • Jarv says :

        Thought it was that. Although the head on was probably a bit much

  12. Toadkillerdog says :

    Just saw captain america. Awesome! The best super hero. Movie u ever saw. Even better than blade. Have more to say tomorrow

  13. ThereWolf says :

    I’ve only seen part of ‘The Driver’ – none of the driving bits & wasn’t impressed at all. Probably need to watch it properly. Walter Hill… ‘Streets Of Fire’, ‘The Warriors’ & ‘Southern Comfort’ readily spring to mind.

    That’s mad as well, I too always wanted a Pontiac Firebird when I was a youth. Used to see one tooling around regularly. In fact, I had a model kit of one. And only a month ago I was reminiscing about the Firebird at work.

    Nice one, Jarv.

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