The Driver (Walter Hill / U.S., 1978):

The most direct manifestation of Walter Hill's closet desire to reconfigure Pickpocket—his models are noir dwellers carved out of granite, revving motors and skidding tires comprise his musique concréte. The getaway ace (Ryan O'Neal) ascends from the depths to ride into the night, he locks eyes with The Player (Isabelle Adjani) during a casino robbery and peels off with half the police force on his tail. She refuses to identify him at the lineup, but The Detective (Bruce Dern) is undaunted: "Know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna catch the cowboy that's never been caught." The city remains unnamed but clearly is Los Angeles just before Michael Mann made it his own, a sprawl in which emblematic phantoms rattle as fractions of the auteur's reverie. The gamesmanship of the chase, its macho hostility ritualized and aestheticized, its pulp dialogue an extension of the negative space. (Dern: "A real sad song. Only trouble is, sad songs ain't selling this year." And an incantatory Adjani: "You think... maybe... you could wait... for a while?") Cinema as the play of stillness and acceleration: What's bottled up inside the taciturn characters might be released behind the wheel, Hill turns vehicular showdowns into marvels of hard abstraction. Deep-focus diagonals against pavement, an orange Mercedes-Benz dismantled in a mysteriously phosphorescent concrete garage, a tunnel illuminated with radioactive greens. "This is the quiet part of the hunt." Pickup on South Street is indicated in the hotel room with The Connection (Ronee Blakley), locker keys and money pursuits are reclaimed from Peckinpah. Finally at the train station, a magical cut gives a vacant platform suddenly filled with cops (cf. Becker's Le Trou) before the closing little joke shared between The Driver and The Detective and The Filmmaker, an empty valise nobody wants. Cinematography by Philip Lathrop. With Matt Clark, Felice Orlandi, Joseph Walsh, and Rudy Ramos.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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