No one seeing Driver ever forgets the moment when Ryan O'Neal, hired to drive a getaway ar, has doubts cast on his professionalism. 'Get in!' he orders the hold-up men. Then, with them powerless witness of his cool expertise, he takes their brand new Mercedes through a test to destruction-point that turns a status symbol into a scuffed, crippled, brokenbacked write-off within minutes. It is obsessive professionalism like thi that provides the motive force in director Walter Hill's 1978 thriller. He himself drives the story along with an existentialist punch - just as all the characters in it do their own thing, withouth regard for consequences.
Driver is the story of a cop, irritated at failing to compel a girl to testify against O'Neal in the bank robbery identity line-up, who uses minor crooks as bait to hook the big one. The duel of wits is like the car-bashing-a superbly elaborated bit of auto-destruction, literally as well as figuratively, in which each man contrives his own ruin while trying to set up the other. The cop is played by Bruce Dern, who creates a character like a vacuum pack. He is pure pressure, sealed off from the outside world. In one exciting hunt through a moving train for a bag of money, he generates so much tension that we expect him to burst. Isabelle Adjani is the girl. And though Ryan O'Neal has no character to express except as 'Action Man,' and his hands are full simply when they're on the wheel, his physical presence is impressive. The frequent car chases are more impressive than the usual eye-boggling stunts, precisely because the screaming vehicles don't take off into feats of fantasy, but hug highways and suspenseful by-ways with a velocity that needs no flamboyant hokum to be gripping. Though its philosophical centre may be bleak, Driver's physical impact is stunning.