Examination of a character type: The Driver

[Ed note: there are a lot of embedded video clips in this post for those with slow machines.]

This is just a thinking out loud piece rather then a full on analysis. I wanted to take a look at the history of and riff on a recurring character type, The Driver. I have two more types I’d like to do so this won’t really be a regular feature.

In 1971 Monte Hellman directed a road movie called Two-Lane Blacktop. In 1978 Walter Hill directed a crime movie called The Driver. Both would go on to be influential movies and both are cult classics. The characters in these movies don’t have traditional names and instead are given the names of their jobs: The Detective, The Player, The Connection, The Girl, The Mechanic, etc. Both of these movies would also introduce us to the enigmatic, quiet and existential The Driver.

I respect a man who’s good at what he does. I’ll tell you something else: I’m *very* good at what I do. — The Driver 1978

Below is the trailer for Two-Lane Blacktop and the “test” scene from The Driver (I couldn’t find a trailer) which should look VERY familiar to fans of the 1999 video game Driver. Two-Lane Blacktop isn’t for everyone but all fans of crime movies should see The Driver if they haven’t yet.

In 2001 and 2002 BMW would update the Driver for the modern age but he was still the consummate, unflappable professional in a series of short film advertisements starring Clive Owen. [All are embedded at the end of the post.] Depending on who was directing some of them are short crime file masterpieces and others are kind of goofy.

Fast forward a couple more years and clearly these movies, The Driver more then Two-Lane Blacktop because of its criminal setting, were an influence on a crop of books that came out within a concentrated few years.

“You’re a driver.” — The Cold Spot by Tom Piccirilli

“I drive. That’s what I do. All I do.” — Drive by James Sallis

“That was all I had to do, then. Drive the car.” — The Getaway Man by Andrew Vachss

“But Lennon was not a burglar — he was a getaway driver.” — The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski

“He was a driver. No driver he’d ever heard about carried a gun, at least not on the job. A wheelman sat in the car, kept his nerve, and waited for his crew even as the alarms went off and the sirens whipped closer.” — The Cold Spot by Tom Piccirilli

This new generation of Driver, bearing some of the hallmarks of their forebears (silence for example) but not all, while bringing their own updated sensibilities. Chief among them – don’t ever cross the Driver. Tom Piccirilli’s The Cold Spot may represent a turning point in the further development of the character type. Chase is more open and emotionally available to the reader and other characters then previous Drivers have been.

So what is it about this character type that is so enduring and appealing? Is it as simple as saying that he is a blank slate on which anything can be projected. Is he the zombie of crime fiction. How, if at all, would any of The Driver’s characteristics change if he were a different gender or race?

Like I said, just thinking out loud.

How about you, what do you think of the character type The Driver?

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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3 comments

  1. How does The Transporter fit into this? wages Of fear?

    I love both TLBT & The Driver, though I haven’t read any of the books you’ve mentioned. That kind of empty shell character, waiting for something to fill their void, fits very well into the type crime fiction where people aren’t interesting in themseselves but what they DO is interesting.

  2. The Hitman, the Cleaner, the Driver. I don’t see where there’s much difference. Cool, calm, and professional at what they do — crime. I think we like these characters because we couldn’t be cool and calm breaking the law, though there are many times in life when we’d like to.

  3. There’s something about the forward motion of The Driver. There’s a some hope in the idea that we can get away from our problems.

    Swierczynski’s is terrific. I like the way his Driver plans the routes and is responisble for more than just driving.

    I don’t know if the character qualifies as a Driver or if it’s more of a chase movie, but I always liked Barry Newman in “Vanishing Point.”

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