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[REVIEW] The Driver (1978) – ManlyMovie

[REVIEW] The Driver (1978)

Runtime: 91 Mins
Rated: A
What To Expect: A cooler movie than its remake.

The movie Drive (2011) starring Ryan Gosling and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn is a failed rip off of this movie.  It takes everything that was cool about this movie and fucks it up.  A good example is that in this movie, Ryan O’Neal, unbelievably, out-cools Steve McQueen.  A big part of that is because he basically doesn’t say much, at all.  When other people speak he just listens intently, these scenes let the story develop through people talking other than O’Neal.  It’s not ’cause he can’t act, it’s to develop his character.  Now take Refn’s half witted interpretation of this, he films Gosling sitting around saying nothing for the sake of saying nothing, completely missing the point of O’Neals performance and Walter Hill’s direction.  This is called pretence.  It’s not cool nor is it intelligent, it’s cringe inducing.

But enough about that favorite of hipster nerdlingers, this is a review of The Driver (1978), the original and possible baddest drive-em-up of the ’70s.  Maybe even in the top five 1970s movies.  The premise is simple enough, Ryan O’Neal (The Driver) is a highly skilled wheelman who offers his services to aspiring robbers.  But he has a bent cop (Bruce Dern) on his case, who tries to set The Driver up in a crooked heist.

This is a real man’s driving action/thriller, light years and entire galaxies ahead of something like Fast & Furious 6.  Here, the thrills don’t come in the form of cars flying without wings, rather they come in the form of a mere stick shift and the effect such an action has on the speakers of your TV/surround and the actual ‘driving’, such is the realism yet beauty of Walter Hill’s expert direction – the chase sequences are that good.  This is exactly the type of movie James Wan spoke of when he said he’d like to see the chase scenes in Fast 7 become more like the ones of old in the ’70s.

Then there’s O’Neal’s performance as The Driver.  This is what manly acting is all about.  Cool, restrained, dangerous.  When his passengers are shitting their pants in the back seat, O’Neal is ice cool at the wheel handling the vehicle like a pro.  On the other side though is Bruce Dern, the weakest element in the movie.  Dern tries to be the cop equivalent of O’Neal but his performance comes across as a failure.  It reeks of effort and that’s something you must absolutely avoid when trying to play it cool – ask Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn.  Luckily, Dern’s character appears less in the third act as The Driver handles his business with other criminals themselves.

I see a lot of James Cameron in the chase scenes of this movie, or to put it another way, Cameron saw a lot in Walter Hill and arguably did the same thing in The Terminator.  The chase sequences are strikingly similar, right down to the modified Chevy C-10 being chased through an L.A. tunnel.  So even Cameron copied Hill.  Lastly, speaking of modified Chevy C-10’s, the one that appears in this movie is the ‘second star’ and the chosen set of wheels for the main star.  The chase sequence with this vehicle is superb, no gearhead should miss it.  It’s a beautiful machine, probably down to its simplicity – lowered at the front on white 15″ steel rims and snarling through L.A with its big block 400.  Manual transmission of course.  Real men don’t do automatic.

Too slow for some probably, but it’s Walter Hill directing cool men driving fast auto mobiles.  Cameron watched it, you should too.

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