The sort of moody urban crime thriller that takes place almost entirely at night, The Driver concerns a laconic, highly-skilled getaway driver (Ryan O’Neal) and the dodgy, not-so-laconic detective (Bruce Dern) who’s obsessed with catching him. Clocking in at a lean 90 minutes, Walter Hill’s second feature is so pared-down and minimalistic that the characters don’t even have names, with each one defined simply by their function or occupation in the film’s closing credits (The Driver, The Detective, and so on). Though this might sound pretentious and potentially shallow, the result is clean, concise and undeniably cool, while the fat-free plot is punctuated by a number of superior driving sequences. Arguably the ultimate car chase movie, Hill’s brooding neo-noir is a shining example of how to stage and edit automobile pursuits, boasting stunt work that is equal to anything in the more celebrated likes of Bullit or The French Connection.
Of course, the film’s influence on Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive is now widely acknowledged and noted among movie fans. But yet it also functions as something of a precursor to Michael Mann’s early work, given the use of nocturnal cityscapes and the central focus on suited professionals whose lives are defined by being the best at what they do. As the steely wheelman, Ryan O’Neil fashions (key word) a convincing if archetypal tough guy, uttering only 350 words and spending at least 75% of the movie glaring at the nearest person to him. Bruce Dern, meanwhile, is far chattier – although not necessarily better – as the obsessive detective on his tail.