Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Walter Hill|
|Produced by||Lawrence Gordon|
|Written by||Walter Hill|
|Music by||Michael Small|
|Cinematography||Philip H. Lathrop|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$2.25 million (US/Canada rentals)
1,102,183 admissions (France)
The Driver is a 1978 crime thriller film written and directed by Walter Hill, starring Ryan O'Neal, Bruce Dern, and Isabelle Adjani. Based upon similarities in plot elements, it is heavily influenced by Jean-Pierre Melville's film Le Samouraï. The film is also notable for its impressive car chases, its no-frills style of filmmaking, and its taciturn, nameless title character.
The Driver (Ryan O'Neal) - real name unknown - is a quiet man who has made a career out of stealing fast cars and using them as getaway vehicles in big-time robberies all over Los Angeles. Hot on the Driver's trail is the Detective (Bruce Dern), a conceited (and similarly nameless) cop who refers to the Driver as "Cowboy." The Player (Isabelle Adjani), a beautiful, mysterious woman, witnesses the Driver speeding away from a casino robbery, but denies having seen him when questioned by the police. Since the Driver has never been caught, the Detective is obsessed with catching him. The Detective goes to ever-increasing lengths to capture "Cowboy," ultimately enlisting a criminal gang to set up a bank job in hopes of baiting and trapping the Driver - even if that plan threatens to wreck the Detective's career.
- Ryan O'Neal as The Driver
- Bruce Dern as The Detective
- Isabelle Adjani as The Player
- Ronee Blakley as The Connection
- Matt Clark as Red Plainclothesman
- Felice Orlandi as Gold Plainclothesman
- Joseph Walsh as Glasses
- Rudy Ramos as Teeth
- Denny Macko as Exchange Man
- Frank Bruno as The Kid
- Will Walker as Fingers
- Sandy Brown Wyeth as Split
- Tara King as Frizzy
- Richard Carey as Floorman
- Fidel Corona as Card Player
- Victor Gilmour as Boardman
- Nick Dimitri as Blue Mask
- Bob Minor as Green Mask
Walter Hill and Larry Gordon had just made Hard Times together which had been successful. Gordon suggested to Hill they make a film about a getaway driver and Hill agreed. Gordon wrote an original screenplay and was interested to see how "pure" a film he could make - a genre film that did not compromise itself in traditional Hollywood ways. Hill says he wrote it as a "very tight script" and could not get it cast for a year and a half.
The role of the driver was originally intended for Steve McQueen, who had starred in the Hill-scripted The Getaway (1972). McQueen turned down the role because he was not interested in action films at that point in his career. Hill was contacted by Ryan O'Neal's agent and agreed to meet the star. "We talked about the role and talked about the minimalist approach I wanted to try," said Hill. "He felt he could do it and we just got comfortable with each other."
Although considered primarily a comedy and romantic star, O'Neal's casting enabled the filmmakers to raise finance.
In the late 1970s, Britain's EMI Films came under the stewardship of Michael Deeley and Barry Spikings. They began co-financing movies shot in Hollywood in association with major US studios that were aimed at the international market, such as Convoy, The Deer Hunter and The Driver.
Several actors were considered for the female lead, including Julie Christie and Charlotte Rampling. Eventually it went to Isabelle Adjani. This was Adjanie's first Hollywood role; she had previously turned down the chance to star in The Other Side of Midnight. She agreed to make The Driver because she was an admirer of Walter Hill's first film Hard Times. Adjani:
I think he is wonderful, very much in the tradition of Howard Hawks, lean and spare. The story is contemporary but also very stylized, and the roles that Ryan and I play are like Bogart and Bacall. We are both gamblers in our souls and we do not show our emotions or say a lot. For us, talk is cheap. I am really quite a mysterious girl in this film, with no name and no background. And I must say that it is restful not to have a life behind me; this way, I don't have to dig deep to play the part. All I know is that life for me is gambling and I am a loser. I have what people call a poker face.
"This Walter Hill is a force to be reckoned with," said O'Neal, "a first rate writer and an even better director. And he's fast. Most young directors today think they are David Lean; they spend over a year on a film and we get robots that talk. Star Wars was infantile and it put me to sleep."
The film holds an 85% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 13 reviews. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called the film "ultraviolent trash that wipes out Ryan O'Neal, Bruce Dern and Isabella Adjani... plays like a bad imitation of a French gangster picture which in turn is a bad imitation of an American gangster picture." Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote "It is Awful Movie. It is Pretentious Movie. It is Silly Movie. It talks just like this." Roger Ebert gave The Driver a mixed 2.5 stars out of 4, writing: "It's a movie about people who are not real because they are symbols, and it's a damned good thing there are great chase scenes or the movie would sink altogether."
Saying it's "probably advisable for film noir aficionados only", film critic Duncan Shepherd of the San Diego Reader praised the film highly (awarding it the highest 5-star rating). "The whole show, in fact, is something like a coded message passed from the moviemaker to the devotees of the genre, in full view of, but beyond the full understanding of, the rest of the audience", according to Shepherd. The film grossed a total of 1,102,183 admissions in France.
The movie was a commercial disappointment in America but did well overseas. Producer Larry Gordon later reflected on the film's poor critical and box office response in the US:
If we'd had Clint Eastwood in the film, we'd have been forgiven everything and they'd have said, 'It's another Eastwood film about driving cars'." If we'd had Steve McQueen, we'd have been compared to Bullitt or The Getaway. We were treated as an art film rather than an action film. We took a unique approach to standard material. We'd go the same way again, but with a different cast we might have attracted an audience. I believe in returning investors' money - and if I could make The Driver again I'd try to rectify it for a commercial market. When you're writing this kind of script... naturally you think of an action lead like Bronson or Eastwood... and certainly Fox wanted a name. But when we got Ryan, I suggested we make changes to suit his character. This is always the director's prerogative.
Isabelle Adjani later complained she felt the film hurt her career. "Afterwards the only American offers I got were bad ones," she said. "I did it, really because after The Story of Adele H everyone urged me to make a Hollywood film. I turned down several, and felt I couldn't continue to do that. And I liked Walter Hill. Only later did I realize I'd made a terrible mistake."
Walter Hill recalled:
To say it [the film] did not do well would be kind. Had I not been shooting The Warriors at the time, I don’t think my career would have survived. They loved it overseas, but in those days, that didn’t matter that much. It made exactly zero dollars in the United States. I remember the studio had this huge sheaf of Xeroxed reviews they’d handed me — you could stop a fucking .45 slug with this stack, it was so thick. And of all the reviews in this six-inch thick pile, there was only one good one. And now, whenever they show retrospectives of my stuff, it’s usually the first thing they show. Sometimes you just have to wait it out. 
"I think Ryan gave a very good performance," added Hill. "I was always very happy with what he did."
In popular culture
Both Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994) and Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004) refer to this film: a shot and setup of Vincent Vega skidding out into the road with an overdosed Mia Wallace in the passenger seat in Pulp Fiction is copied from the opening chase of The Driver; and Beatrix Kiddo being described as "the cowgirl [who] ain't never been caught" in Kill Bill: Volume 2 is copied from Ryan O'Neal's character description in The Driver as "the cowboy who could not be caught". According to Wensley Clarkson's book, Tarantino - The Man, the Myths and His Movies, Tarantino lists The Driver as one of the "coolest movies of all time."
The film also influenced Drive (2011), directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. "It’s a very different movie," said Hill of this." It has certain things, as Nic has told me, that are homage and that’s fine. It’s very complimentary. I bear him no animosity or anything. I think he’s a remarkably talented guy and quite like him."
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p258
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p234
- Box office figures for Walter Hill films in France at Box Office Story
- "Walter Hill". Legends of Film Podcast (Podcast). 22 February 2012.
- Scott Tobias, "Walter Hill", AV Club 14 April 2011 accessed 25 April 2014
- "The Driver". Turner Classic Movies.
- DeNiro a Vet Again in 'Hunter' Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 04 Apr 1977: e9.
- The storyteller French, Philip. The Observer (1901- 2003) [London (UK)] 01 Nov 1981: 30.
- Flatley, Guy (1977-08-12). "At the Movies: Isabelle Adjani Finds Poker Easy; Cheating Takes Practice". New York Times. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
- Flatley, Guy (30 Dec 1977). "At the Movies". New York Times. p. C8.
- "The Driver (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
- 'Driver': Violence in First Gear Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 28 July 1978: i19.
- Canby, Vincent (1978-07-28). "Screen: 'Driver' Takes a Rocky Road:No Names, Please!". New York Times. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
- Review of The Driver in the Reader. Archived February 13, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
- JP. "The Driver (1978)". JPBox-Office. Retrieved 2012-04-06.
- Taylor, Clarke (8 Oct 1978). "LARRY GORDON ROLLS HIS DICE". Los Angeles Times. p. n35.
- MOVIES: ISABELLE ADJANI HOPES THAT A U.S. HIT IS IN THE CARDS Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 24 July 1983: s23.
- Fear, David (16 September 2016). "Walter Hill on Controversial Revenge Thriller '(Re)Assignment'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
- FILM CLIPS: 'The Body Snatchers' Moves Up Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 22 Oct 1977: c11.
- Tarantino - The Man, the Myths and His Movies by Wensley Clarkson. John Blake, Publisher, 2007. ISBN 1-84454-366-8
- Brown, Phil (15 September 2016). "Walter Hill on His Controversial Thriller '(Re) Assignment' and Why He Quit 'Deadwood'". Collider.
- The Driver at the Internet Movie Database
- The Driver at the TCM Movie Database
- The Driver at AllMovie