Wednesday, 19 July 2017
Sometime in the early 1970s jobbing Hollywood screenwriter Walter Hill put the word out that he was a big fan of director John Boorman and the film Point Blank in particular. This effusiveness was rewarded with a copy of Alexander Jacobs' mythical (in writing circles) screenplay. Hill has described the reading experience as revelatory. Jacobs didn't waste a word, rattling out scene directions as bursts of pure information; haiku compared to the flowering prose of his contemporaries.
Jacobs rejected standard screenwriting assembly, doling out detail in a manner that hewed closer to bullet points or pure, impartial data. Hill was impressed. Jacobs had created a document that wasn't simply an anonymous filmmaking blueprint. The writer clearly had a voice, a sensibility that demanded his work be read as a complimentary piece of art rather than a disposable outline. Hill resolved to bring the same terse, vital readability to his own work. The Driver stands as the purest example of those labours.
As filmed, Point Blank follows a spectral criminal fixated on the former allies who acted against him. The film presents its lead character as an emotion writ large, pushing closer and closer to the people who turned him into an undying engine. Hill goes a step further, boiling his characters down to even simpler motivations - their job and an attendant will to succeed. Ryan O'Neal isn't playing a heroic archetype struggling manfully against impossible odds, he is simply The Driver. His character defined by an unshakable belief in his own abilities rather than any romantic, interior ambitions.
Although Driver takes payment for his services there is no evidence that he does anything with the cash. His apartment is barren, the cars he uses are procured on-site and trashed immediately after they have served their function. Driver pointedly doesn't care about the money he accumulates, it's just part of a necessary transaction that brings him closer to an opportunity to excel. His opponent, Bruce Dern's rabid Detective, is similarly bloody-minded, willing to break the law in the hope of trapping his quarry. Their conflict exists in the abstract, rules and regulations are irrelevant to both of them, they are simply two experts testing their limits by colliding with each other.