THE DRIVER. EMI Films/20th Century Fox, 1978. Ryan O’Neal, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani, Ronee Blakley. Written and directed by Walter Hill.

   Ryan O’Neal plays it cool – really cool – as the eponymous Driver in Walter Hill’s genre bending contemporary Western/crime drama. Although on the surface, The Driver is just another action movie replete with urban car chases, the movie is a multi-layered, yet subtle, re-imagining of the Western film subgenre in which a renegade lawman becomes consumed with bringing an outlaw to justice.

   Enter Bruce Dern, who is known for his seemingly effortless ability to portray unhinged characters. He portrays the Detective who relentlessly pursues the Driver, a skillful, ascetic getaway driver who has been involved in some high profile robberies in Los Angeles. Dern is actually quite effective in this role, and he chews the scenery throughout the film. There’s a goldmine of subtle dialogue sprinkled throughout the movie, much of it the Detective’s acerbic interactions with his colleagues and suspects alike.

   That brings us to the Player (Isabelle Adjani), a gambler who the Detective suspects isn’t exactly truthful about what she witnesses during a casino robbery. Much like O’Neal, Adjani plays it cool with an understated performance that somehow makes the movie even stronger than it would have been had she showed more emotion. The Player is not afraid in getting caught up in the cat-and-mouse game between the Driver and the Detective. She may be mysterious and vulnerable, but she isn’t going to be so easily intimidated by either the cops or the criminals.

   What the movie lacks in character development – seen most obviously in the lack of personal names for the main characters – it more than makes up for in skillfully filmed car chases, most of which take place without any music. Indeed, there is no fanfare to drown out the sounds of revving engines and squeaking tires. All of which serve to remind the viewer that, despite the fact that the narrative could just have easily been reworked for a gritty Western, that this is a car chase film par excellence.