Gearhead Theater: The Driver (1978)

Infotainment, Reviews I By Bradley Iger I April 07, 2014
Today we’re watching Walter Hill’s The Driver, a "neo-noir" style crime drama that centers around a wheelman for hire and the cat-and-mouse game he plays with the detective who wants to bring him to justice at any cost. But since this is Gearhead Theater, we’re going to level with you – we’re really here for the cars, and everything else beyond that is more or less an incidental bonus.
If you’ve seen the 2011 indie favorite Drive, you’ll quickly realize how much that movie borrows from the one we’re watching today – both revolve around a nameless, Los Angeles-based hot shoe with a fairly aloof approach to morality, a distaste for guns, and a penchant for American V8 power plants. Truth be told, both movies actually owe a great debt to the 1967 French-Italian crime film Le Samouraï, but that’s a rabbit hole we’d prefer to go down at another time.
The Driver wastes no time satiating our hunger for wheel-to-wheel action – we’re barely more than five minutes into the opening scene of the movie before the black and whites are screaming full throttle down the back streets of Downtown LA with sirens blaring, tailing the driver and a pair of unsavory characters in a 1974 Ford Galaxie 500. The driving and choreography in this opening chase are fantastic – enough to make us wonder how this film had slipped under our radar for so long. No sped up film or fast cuts that feebly attempt to trick you into a sense of speed – just massive American iron careening through all the classic car chase clichés – alleyways full of lightweight trash, narrow parking garages and city streets somehow almost completely devoid of slow-moving traffic.
Putting continuity issues aside – the Galaxie loses its trunk lid mid-chase, then regains it, only to lose it again when it is knocked off by a shotgun blast minutes later – the opening chase is masterfully executed in tradition of movies like Bullitt and the original Gone in Sixty Seconds and bodes well for what’s to come.
Mid-70s F-bodies make a strong showing later in the movie, with two different Pontiac Firebirds making getting driven in anger in separate chases. A 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280 S in a particularly fetching shade of orange also gets put through the ringer as well – though in retrospect, vintage MB fans might want to cover their eyes during that scene. The biggest oddball of the group is a modified, manual-shift Chevy stepside pickup that finds its way into the mix toward the tail end of the film. Considering what Detroit and the rest of the world had to offer in North America in 1978, you could do a lot worse than the selection of vehicles found here.
Like most crime dramas, there’s an inevitable ebb and flow to action to ratchet up the sense of tension, and in between chase scenes, film buffs will have plenty of symbolism and film noir tropes to pick up on. In fact, it’s said that Quentin Tarantino is such a huge fan of The Driver that he makes direct reference to it in both Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill: Vol. 2, and he has been quoted as saying that The Driver is one of the "coolest movies of all time."
That said, viewers who lack a vested interest in the minutiae of filmmaking might find the distinct style of The Driver a little bit tricky to get in sync with, as the lack of character names, along with a protagonist of very few words and no clear delineation between "good guys" and "bad guys" could be slightly off-putting to some. But even for those individuals in the audience the truly intense chase scenes found here will more than make for it, and with a 91-minute total run time, The Driver also makes a point of not overstaying its welcome, either.
A highly recommended popcorn car-guy flick that might’ve flown under your radar. You can pick up The Driver on DVD in the Winding Road Racing store

The Guide to Road Racing: Winding Road Magazine's ultimate guide to getting your start in racing.

Table of Contents

Related Articles

The Genesis G90 Bang & Olufsen Audio System

The Genesis G90 Bang & Olufsen audio system has given birth to an exceptional audio experience that redefines in-car sound.

October 27, 2023
Ferrari Purosangue: SUV or Not, We Love It

We’d hesitate to describe it as an ‘SUV’: It’s a Ferrari… just with four doors. But we’re obsessed!

March 09, 2023
Review: 2022 Mini Cooper SE Infotainment

The infotainment system is pretty conventional, dominated by Apple CarPlay and limited in scope by very few autonomous driving features.  The optional harman/kardon audio system is good but not amazing.

September 02, 2022
Audio Review: Porsche Taycan Turbo Cross Turismo

We rarely cover in-car audio and despite the Munich High‑End show being surrounded by automotive excellence (there’s a car museum just opposite and it sits…

July 06, 2022
Car Audio Test: 2012 Fiat 500 Sport Hatchback

Testing Notes: As Bose systems go, this is one of the better ones, though a glance at our ratings will perhaps convey that this is faint praise indeed. That’s because this system still takes the life out of music by sanding off the nuances and details. In addition, the spatial presentation is disconcerting with sounds coming from the dash and shifted away from the driver. Unfortunately, one’s listening pleasure is further reduced because the Fiat 500 is far from the quietest car on the road and the single DIN head unit offers but a minimalist user interface. Still, this leaves this stereo in the “not bad” category much more than in the “outright offensive” zone.

April 06, 2012


Get the latest driving and racing news straight to your inbox.

no thanks

Begin typing your search above and press return to search.