|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 titular character.
The Driver (Ryan O'Neal) - real name unknown - has made a career out of stealing cars to use 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 otherwise-nameless cop who has his own name for the Driver: "Cowboy." Since the Driver has never been caught, the Detective goes to ever-increasing lengths to bring him down. Ultimately, the Detective sets up a bank job in order to bait and trap the Driver. Even when said plan threatens to wreck the Detective's own career, he remains steadfast in his obsession to bust the Driver.
- 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
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.
The role of the driver was originally intended for Steve McQueen. Walter Hill says he sent a copy of the original draft of the script to Raoul Walsh for his approval and that the veteran director liked it.
It was the first Hollywood role for Isabelle Adjani, who 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.
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called the movie "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."
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."
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."
- 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
- DeNiro a Vet Again in 'Hunter' Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 04 Apr 1977: e9.
- Scott Tobias, "Walter Hill", AV Club 14 April 2011 accessed 25 April 2014
- The storyteller French, Philip. The Observer (1901- 2003) [London (UK)] 01 Nov 1981: 30.
- At the Movies: Isabelle Adjani Finds Poker Easy; Cheating Takes Practice Flatley, Guy. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 12 Aug 1977: C7.
- 'Driver': Violence in First Gear Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 28 July 1978: i19.
- Screen: 'Driver' Takes a Rocky Road: No Names, Please! By VINCENT CANBY. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 28 July 1978: C8.
- 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.
- LARRY GORDON ROLLS HIS DICE Taylor, Clarke. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 08 Oct 1978: 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.
- 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
- The Driver at the Internet Movie Database
- The Driver at the TCM Movie Database
- The Driver at AllMovie