Just before The Warriors came out to play, filmmaker Walter Hill retooled the LA crime genre with sleek and poetic European filmmaking sensibilities in his 1978 film The Driver. Starring Ryan O’Neal, Bruce Dern and Isabelle Adjani, plus boasting some of the most thrilling car chases ever committed to celluloid, this lean, mean thrill ride arrives in 4K Ultra HD with a remarkable new 2160p transfer and a couple new special features to enjoy. StudioCanal’s new 4K Blu-ray release comes Highly Recommended!
Walter Hill cited Jean Pierre Melville’s La Samourai as being a direct influence on the original script he wrote for The Driver. To put into perspective the kind of filmmaker Hill was during that era in his career, actress Isabelle Adjani once commented “…he (Hill) is wonderful, very much in the tradition of Howard Hawks, lean and spare.” Lean and spare is exactly how I’d describe The Driver, which is a whole lot of style mixed with noir-style characterizations that toe the line between contemporary and vintage. Add Ryan O’Neal at his foppish and steely best to the fold and you have a leading man that fits naturally into the mode of film noir.
The premise of The Driver is rather simple. The Driver (Ryan O’Neal) is the man behind all the latest high-profile robberies in Los Angeles. But soon, a wiry and committed Detective (Bruce Dern) makes it his business to catch the Driver. The Driver seeks help from the Player (Isabelle Adjani) to mislead the Detective.
As you can probably ascertain from the summary above, The Driver concerns itself with the elemental qualities of the heist film. What can originally be taken as thin characterizations being dictated by overwhelming style reveals itself to be quite the opposite. Dern, Adjani and O’Neal are all at their best here, reflecting Hill’s artistic sensibilities here wonderfully. Both O’Neal and Adjani are cool and calculated just as their noir roots have ordered, with Dern settling right into the dogged detective role. They may be cyphers for Hill’s allegory, but that doesn’t soften or obfuscate the impact.
No car chase movie is without its car chases though, right? That question is frequently on the mind of The Driver, as the story so frequently threatens to break out into vehicular mayhem, though it saves all the rollicking action for the finale. The film is chock full of symbolism in both static and moving aesthetic practice. Hill’s own love for the metaphysical in world cinema shows up in full force here, and I don’t think it has shown up quite as well as it does here.
The Driver was initially discarded by critics and audiences alike, but Hill was luckily in the middle of shooting The Warriors when all the pans came out. Therefore, the failure didn’t immediately affect the then-burgeoning filmmaker’s career, and The Warriors of course released to an outstanding response. And to this day, The Driver stands as a major influence on filmmakers like Edgar Wright and Nicolas Winding Refn. If you haven’t seen it, that should be more than enough reason to check it out.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
The Driver speeds and hits the skids in 4K with a two-disc (BD100 for UHD and BD50 for Blu-ray) release that’s housed in StudioCanal’s standard thick black case. A folded poster is included inside the case as well, and a slipcover with spot gloss goes over everything. The 4K disc fires up to a standard menu with options to play the movie, explore chapters, browse bonus features and set up audio/video.
Note: Images are not sourced from the discs, we haven't been able to rip them yet to get disc-sourced pics or video but we aim to ASAP.
For a film as stylish as The Driver, as it utilizes the cooler color scheme of European filmmaking style (hence the Melville inspiration), it is with great pleasure to report that the new 4K restoration and accompanying HEVC-encoded 2160p presentation stuns almost immediately. Where previous Blu-ray releases softened a lot of the detail in the frame, this presentation tightens up grain and keeps it naturally filmic. I was most taken with just how much shadow detail and grain definition is gained with this new transfer. The film itself had a pretty small budget, though Hill’s sturdy eye for detail overcame any limitations there. Where the Dolby Vision HDR really impresses is in those LA streetlights and other peak lighting. Highlights tend to punctuate the film’s overall cooler style but threaten to overwhelm parts of the frame. The HDR layer here treats these highlights wonderfully without clipping anything. Overall, this is the best the film has ever looked at home.
The Driver has a pretty bare soundscape, with not much dialogue and crash effects punctuating as hard as they can when necessary. StudioCanal presents the film here with both DTS-HD MA 5.1 and original uncompressed stereo tracks included, although I give the slight edge to the 2.0 track for being more faithful to the film’s front-focused intent. Not a lot of surround action is to be found in the 5.1 track and I found the 2.0 track to have a better balance between dialogue and music.
While special features are a bit light on this 4K Blu-ray release, I was pleased to find two new programs (totaling about 45 minutes) with Hill himself here. In particular, the interview with Hill is really enlightening and full of production details. You’re sure to find this handful of supplements pleasing.
Disc 1: 4K UHD
Disc 2: Blu-ray
Fueled by the minimalist, elemental filmmaking of European film noir and offering uniquely American sensibilities on justice and moral turpitude, Walter Hill’s 1978 crime thriller The Driver gets a very welcome upgrade to 4K Ultra HD from StudioCanal. The new transfer alone should be worthy of a purchase, but the addition of new supplements with Hill himself sweetens the deal considerably. This release is Highly Recommended!