Blu-ray Review: The Driver - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Anyone interested in indulging in a limited edition title from boutique label Twilight Time would do well to try Walter Hill’s The Driver. The 1978 crime thriller is a 90-minute adrenaline rush and an awful lot of fun. Ryan O’Neal stars as a getaway driver—the best there is—hotly pursued by a detective played by Bruce Dern. No one in the film has a name. They’re billed by the function they serve in Hill’s bare-bones screenplay. No character development, no backstories. O’Neal outdrove Dern’s cops and now the detective will stop at nothing to catch him.

The car chase set pieces are a big part of what makes The Driver such a blast. O’Neal doesn’t even need competition to show off his skills. At one point, in order to prove his worth to would-be employers, he maneuvers around an empty parking garage at top speed (a demonstration that goes wildly over the top). This is elemental, visceral cinematic storytelling. We get thrillingly believable visuals, coolly detached characters, and plenty of suspense and forward momentum. It’s not deep, but it wasn’t meant to be. Of course there’s a girl—two, in fact. A very young, very beautiful Isabelle Adjani (billed as “The Player”) is a witness to the Driver’s illegal activities (or is she?). Ronee Blakley is “The Connection,” a liaison between the Driver and some higher, unseen criminal force.

Driver cover (153x200).jpgIt’s not just the action sequences that make The Driver such an exciting ride. Dern contrasts O’Neal’s intentional underplaying with a wily, funny performance that just about sparkles with inspiration. After the slam-bang opening getaway, Dern’s Detective becomes obsessed with catching the Driver. In fact, he hatches a plan so cockamamie it almost makes sense. After nabbing a pair of thieves who screw up a grocery store heist, the Detective sets up a bank robbery. The two crooks he caught are tasked with hiring the Driver, with the idea that they’ll guide him right into the Detective’s trap. Of course, nothing goes as smoothly as planned.

Rock solid visual presentation keeps The Driver looking strikingly good in its Blu-ray debut. The source print used for the transfer was obviously in excellent shape, with no dirt, scratches or other anomalies. This is a clean, sharp presentation that brims with detail even during the darkest scenes (of which there are many). The DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack is adequate, though the dialogue is unnaturally quiet during some scenes. Keep the remote handy and it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

Michael Small’s score is offered as an isolated track in DTS-HD MA 2.0. This is a standard feature of Twilight Time releases and I imagine quite valuable to anyone with a serious interest in film scoring. An alternate opening is also included, one that was apparently ordered by the studio to “clarify” the characters (it would’ve been deadweight). As usual, Julie Kirgo contributes a new essay in the Blu-ray booklet that elaborates on what was Hill’s second film as a director. This is Twilight Time’s second Walter Hill reissue this year (the first was Hard Times) and another excellent addition their eclectic catalog.

For ordering information, visit Screen Archives. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray editions are truly limited, with only 3,000 copies available.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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