The most direct manifestation of Walter Hill's continuous desire to remake Pickpocket -- his "models" are noir dwellers distilled to their quiddity, his musique concréte is the vroom-vroom of skidding chases. The antihero, Ryan O'Neal, emerges from industrial depths into a garage, and drives into the night; people are defined by their actions, so he's the Driver, a getaway ace on his way to a casino holdup. The Player (Isabelle Adjani) deals the cards, and catches a glimpse of O'Neal as hokey-masked crooks rush into his car; the Detective (Bruce Dern) admires professionalism, particularly his own, and deems the cat-and-mouse game better than sports. The city remains unnamed, but it's clearly L.A. before Michael Mann made it his own, a land of existential phantoms most at home in the nocturnal sprawl where they act out their roles as fractions of the auteur's terse reverie. O'Neal's softness provides an analysis of Steve McQueen, his "cowboy desperado" pitted against Dern's haunted sheriff -- macho hostility is ritualized, aestheticized, etherealized, the dialogue pitched at another Bresson, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne. (Dern: "A real sad song... Only trouble is, sad songs ain't selling this year." Or an incantatory Adjani: "You think... maybe... you could wait... for a while?") What's bottled up in the characters is released behind the wheel, and Hill transforms every car showdown into wonders of abstraction: deep-focus diagonals for streets lined with posts, the orange Mercedes-Benz dismantled in the strangely phosphorescent concrete garage, a tunnel illuminated with spooky, greenish light, the labyrinth of warehouse boxes. Hill leeches the notion of underworld loyalty out of the Pickup on South Street homage (Ronee Blakley in her hotel room) and reclaims his own bit of business from The Getaway (a valise of money in a train) to lend it metaphysical heft. Finally, a cut magically teleports the Detective and a battalion of officers into the empty train station lounge in time for the Driver and the Filmmaker to unveil their last taciturn gag, a moment of spiritual quietude offsetting and complementing the visceral kineticism that has led up to it. Cinematography by Philip Lathrop. With Matt Clark, Felice Orlandi, Joseph Walsh, Rudy Ramos, and Will Walker.
--- Fernando F. Croce