The Driver Blu-ray Review
Influential and Cool, but is it for the modern audience?
Tarantino calls it “one of the coolest movies of all time” and The Driver has the credentials for itThe Driver stars Ryan O'Neal and Bruce Dern on opposites of the law. O’Neal is the titular Driver, a car thief and expert behind the wheel who hires his talents to any robbers that can pay his feed While Dern is the obsessed Detective who will do anything to catch this seeming unstoppable villain. Both have a strong code of ethics, but both are at odds with their respective outlooks, the Driver, firm and stoic in his actions, the Detective an almost lose cannon willing and able to bend, break and destroy not only the law but his own career to see through his obsession.
Directed and written with decent flair by Walter Hill, he boils down the action to a few set pieces removing all but the most essential dialogue relying on audience intelligence to fill in the gaps. Even on its release it was greeted with some distain for its cold aloofness and minimalist dialogue, but has grown in stature over the years to become something of a cult classic. The destruction of the Merc scene is a firm favourite and probably its most well-known. But what it makes up for in being ‘cool’ it loses in detachment, the modern audience may find it difficult to relate to and, dare I say it, boring! However, its action scenes more than make up for any deficiencies in the script and it’s great that such an influential film is seeing the light of day.
The disc presents a theatrically correct 1.85:1 1080p transfer using the AVC codec and Region locked to B. The whole picture is slightly boxed, in that there are black bars around all four sides preserving the correct aspect ratio – if you are sensitive to such things, placing your viewing device into over-scan will eliminate them.
For a film of this age and vintage the picture is actually pretty good and has cleaned up remarkably well. Detail is very good, skin texture is well realised, clothing weaves are discernable for close ups, while establishing shots of the cityscape retain plenty of hard edges; streetlights, road markings, signs etc. all giving rise to a pleasing image.
For a film of this age, the picture cleaned up remarkably well
Colour is OK, primaries come off well and flesh tones are reasonable, there is a slight greenish hue to the whole picture which is not that distracting and might even be a stylistic choice; it certainly makes the nights scenes gleam, though the orange Mercedes that the Driver destroys doesn’t look quite right.
Brightness and contrast are, however, the most problematic, as they are set so low that the film is very, very dark. Yes this might be intentional but when you start to lose detail in the shadows I do question it. Also the alternate opening scene included as an extra is nowhere near as dark. Anyway, be that as it may, what we do have does give the picture a very moody feel, shadows are deep and impenetrable; shadow detail is almost non-existent (see the Detective's suit for many examples), but one bonus is the frame depth is increased.
Digitally there are no compression artefacts, no edge enhancement, no aliasing or posterization. There is a very pleasing sheen of grain that retains the organic nature of the film, though there still remains the odd spec of damage. There was one scene (with the Driver and the Player) about half way through that had a dramatic drop in quality, but it is only brief. On the whole I was pleased with the picture considering the vintage.
Only the one track to choose from: English LPCM dual mono. This is a pretty functional track getting its information across without issue. Dialogue is well delivered within the mix, nothing getting lost and sounds are natural enough. The police sirens are very loud in the mix and the only part that becomes almost shrill, but they never distort. Bass is somewhat limited, though the red truck and the occasional gunshot are deep enough. The score is great and does showcase some decent range. On the whole a pretty good track that has cleaned up well and imparts its information without frills or spills.
Alternative Opening – Brief amount of extra footage to introduce some of the characters before the opening chase; does show a few extra character beats (particularly with the Detective) but the more enigmatic characterisation of the final product fairs better without their inclusion.
Trailer – With more dialog and differing shots than in the film, in that regard it’s worth a watch.
Walter Hill’s The Driver is a little known film but over the years has gained quite the cult status, helped by Tarantino’s quote of “one of the coolest movies of all time”. However the latest audience of movie goers may mistake ‘cool’ for aloof detachment and boredom. The story tells of a skilled driver, who steals cars for bank jobs and is so good he has never been caught and the obsessed detective who will put his own career on the line to catch him. Notable for extended, and terrific, car chases, minimalist dialogue and a punchy to the point script, it hasn’t aged all that well in that it’s low budget almost gruella filming and reliance on contrivance to advance the plot may put the modern audience off.
Notable for extended car chases, minimalist dialogue and a punchy to the point script
As a Blu-ray set, Studiocanal have a basic package, the picture has cleaned up well; being detailed and clean, but is very dark in presentation, the sound is also quite basic but delivers its information well. The small selection of extras is welcome but hardly worth it. At least the film can survive on it’s status.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.99
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