Not to be confused with Walter Hill's influential 1978 noir---and, of course, that Ryan Gosling film---Danny Brocklehurst and Jim Poyser's The Driver (2014) is a three-episode BBC series about an ordinary man in over his head as a wheelman working for a shady boss. Scratch that: Vince McKee (David Morrissey, The Walking Dead) has actually got two shady bosses: during the day, he's a cabbie under the thumb of Amjad (Harish Patel), who skims profits off the top of his drivers' fares. The other boss? We'll come back to that later. For now, Vince craves a little change in his life: the job situation isn't too rosy, his marriage to the mutually distant Rosalind (Claudie Blakley) has grown stagnant after almost 18 years, his daughter Katie (Sacha Parkinson) has questionable taste in men, and his older son Tim (Lewis Rainer) left home years ago for reasons that aren't immediately explained. They will be, kind of.
Vince's change comes in the form of a second job, provided courtesy of long-time friend and recent ex-convict Colin Vine (Ian Hart). Colin introduces Vince to a man known as "The Horse" (Colm Meaney), who's in need of a skilled driver to carry out routine errands and deliveries without asking a lot of questions. Hoping that the extra money will solve his problems, Vince agrees to work for The Horse...and somewhat predictably, things go south in a hurry. Unlike the Gosling film, our central character is completely in over his head, treading water desperately as the lies and crimes pile up, his family life crumbles, and he finally realizes that getting out might be the biggest challenge of all.
Even with its relatively brisk three-hour running time (spread out evenly over the course of three episodes), The Driver can feel awfully overstuffed. Vince's family life and professional exploits provide ample fodder for suspense, but the way they constantly intersect is almost absurdly convenient at times. The Horse's patience for Vince is equally convenient: the former is depicted as ruthlessly violent towards those that fail him, yet Vince regularly misses calls and shows up late without consequence. Finally, the addition of his missing son---whose fate is finally revealed during the second episode, during one of the series' best scenes---ends up being the straw that breaks the camel's back, as its resolution steals the spotlight from a big heist that's meant to be Vince's final job for The Horse.
Even so, The Driver is entertaining enough the first time through and, though obviously limited in replay value, the near-constant suspense makes it worth a look. As do the performances from primary and supporting cast members, and an extremely claustrophobic atmosphere that pairs well with the subject matter. Luckily, those interested in The Driver can hunt down this two-disc release from Acorn, which serves up all three episodes along with a terrific A/V presentation. The bonus features are almost nil, but there's enough meat here to make it worth a weekend spin.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
I've reviewed a handful of Acorn releases during the past few years, and their inconsistent video quality was usually the result of dated source materials, incorrect NTSC-PAL conversion, a lack of progressive flagging, or a combination of those three. Thankfully, The Driver suffers from none of these problems and looks exceptionally strong from start to finish. Stylishly shot (often in natural light or under cover of darkness), this 1.78:1 transfer yields excellent image detail and the muted color palette appears accurate and well-saturated. Black levels and contrast levels are also pleasing. The production appears to have been shot with high-quality HD video equipment and appears smooth and clean---and I mean that as a compliment---from start to finish. Flagrant digital issues are also not a problem here. Overall, it's a fine effort that fans will enjoy on both sides of the pond. No Blu-ray option, though.
DISCLAIMER: The promotional images in this review are decorative and do not represent this DVD's native 480p image resolution.
The only audio option during all three episodes is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that creates a well-balanced and natural sound stage that's mixed well for the small screen. This is obviously a front-loaded and dialogue-driven affair, but the show's pulsing, low-key soundtrack and some of the more action-oriented scenes regularly drift into the rear channels. Low end is limited but makes itself known on several occasions. Overall, the show's potent level of suspense is amplified in all the right places, and that's really all you can ask of an audio mix like this. Optional English SDH subtitles are included as well, which definitely will help those unfamiliar with certain accents and vocabulary words.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The simple interface on both discs includes options for episode selection, subtitle setup and bonus features (Disc 2 only), with each episode screen offering a brief summary and chapter index. This two-disc set is housed in a black hinged keepcase; also included is a promotional insert and a matching slipcover. It's locked for Region 1 only.
Not much at all, just an extremely brief and surface-level Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
(5 minutes) with promotional cast and crew input, as well as a self-playing Photo Gallery
(1 minute) set to a clip from the soundtrack. An audio commentary or more words from the director or writer would've added a lot more value to this package.
The Driver is a suspenseful drama with plenty of terrific performances, a claustrophobic atmosphere, and tension to spare. But even at roughly three hours, the story feels overstuffed and suffers from several pacing issues, loose ends, and convenient twists that may drive all but the most forgiving audiences up the well. The final episode also resolves itself much too quickly and neatly considering the layered events that precede it and, while The Driver does the right thing by avoiding a completely trouble-free ending, a number of nagging questions are left unanswered. Acorn Media's two-disc DVD package serves up a top-notch A/V presentation but almost nothing in the way of extras; combined with the series' limited replay value, The Driver is more of a weekend curiosity than a keeper. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.