The hire is a series of short films staring Clive Owen and released by BMW starting in 2001. They were, as you’d expect, a series of advertisements for their cars but BMW really went all out for this promotion.
With eight films spread out over two seasons (five in season one and the last three in season two), they were directed by some of Hollywood’s biggest directors.
The Hire first appeared on the now defunct BMWFilms. com website where you could download or stream each episode. After the first season was complete, BMW made it available on DVD for those people visiting their dealerships. You could buy a copy directly from BMW for a small postage fee.
Another version of the DVD was given away with Vanity Fair magazine and this issue sold out quickly and soon became a collectors item.
I obtained the third and final pressing of the DVD directly from BMW sometime back in late 2002. This disc included all the shorts from both seasons. Each short film included a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a separate stereo soundtrack, a commentary from the relevant director, and “making of” material. Other extras included were multi angle presentations of the featured cars and a selection of theatrical trailers.
For a free DVD advertising a few expensive cars, I thought this was very impressive. The only drawback is the picture quality which has interlacing issues and is non anamorphic. As I found it watching the DVD again recently, this results in a small picture in the middle of your TV screen. However these issues can be rectified by ripping the DVD into a computer and running the footage through a few filters.
So what are the short films about? Whilst the they are still commercials for cars, there not just eight short car chase films. There are however, two constant themes that run all the way through the series. The first is obviously BMW cars, the second is that each film features Clive Owen as someone only ever referred to as The Driver. A man who transports people for cash and displays exceptional driving skills.
Here is look at each of the films in turn.
Directed by John Frankenheimer (Ronin, Reindeer Games)
Ambush has The Driver escorting a smart dressed man through the night when a van pulls up alongside. The van doors open and a group of armed men in balaclavas demand the $2 million in uncut diamonds the passenger is holding in the briefcase.
The Driver agrees to their demands until the passenger admits he swallowed the diamonds to get them through customs. He begs for his life as the assailants will cut him open to retrieve the bounty. ‘The Driver’ changes his mind and a car chase with twist and turns ensues through the roads in the night.
This is a solid piece of film making with a funny question mark hanging over the ending. The short was written by Andrew Kevin Walker who has uncredited rewrites on such films as Event Horizon, Fight Club, Sleepy Hollow. He also wrote many scripts that never made production such as an X-Men (this script was written six years before the Bryan Singer film), a Silver Surfer movie and Batman vs. Superman.
Directed by Ang Lee (The Life Of Pi, The Hulk, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
The Driver protects a holy Asian child who has been brought to America by boat. The boy gives The Driver a small box but informs him not to open it until later. Upon trying to leave the docks, they are blocked by two black cars.
Rather than a car chase, Ang Lee presents us with a car ballet that is set to classical music. Once The Driver escapes he hands the boy over at the destination. The boy won’t let go of his hand and signals to him that something is not right. The Driver notices the holy monk has cowboy boots on, and rescues the boy.
Once back in the car, The Driver opens the box to find an Incredible Hulk plaster and then realises his ear was grazed by gunfire in the earlier car chase. Is the boy special after all?
The car ballet is a different approach to a standard car chase but its still engrossing to watch. Its interesting to note that two years after this was completed Ang Lee would release his version of The Incredible Hulk to theatres.
Directed by Wong Kar-wai (The Grandmaster)
The Driver is hired by a nervous movie manager (Forest Whitaker) to follow an actress (Adriana Lima in her first acting role) under the pretence that she is cheating on her husband (Mickey Rourke).
The Driver follows her until he discovers that her husband is beating her. He returns the cash for the job the to manager informing him that he lost her and asks never to be contacted again.
The Follow is a slow, gentle piece that uses the car sparingly and concentrates more on the human story.
Director Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels)
The Driver is hired to drive a spoilt celebrity (Madonna) to her next venue. Unknown to her The Driver has actually been hired to teach her a lesson. He is to drive fast and dangerously through the streets, trying to lose the bodyguards following in an SUV. The Driver plays up the role with both his methods of driving and the way he talks to the star. The car chase comes to an embarrassing end when the Star is thrown from the car in front of a crowd of paparazzi.
This has Guy Ritchie trademarks running through it. A fast fun car chase with an introduction by The Driver speaking straight to camera, at us the audience. The car chase is set to Blur’s Song 2 which really helps the film move at a dizzying pace. Probably my second favourite short of the collection.
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel)
The Driver is hired by the UN to rescue a wounded War Photographer (Stellan Skarsgård) from a dangerous hostile country. He has photographs to prove the injustice and war crimes being committed in the unnamed setting of the film.
On route to the border the Photographer tells The Driver of his regret of not having children and that he only took pictures. He never put the camera down to help those in front of him. The Driver asks him why he became a war photographer to which he replies that his mother taught him to see. He hands over reels of film and his dog tags with instructions to pass them onto the New York Times and his Mother.
The Driver plays down his request and at a military checkpoint the photographer won’t stop taking pictures which angers the guards and starts a gunfight. The Driver manages to escape and escort the Photographer across the border only to discover he hasn’t survived the gunfight.
The Driver travels to the Photographer’s Mother (Louis Smith) to hand over the dog tags and inform her of his passing. He tries to show her the New York Times article and that he has won the Pulitzer Prize but he then notices she is blind.
Powder Keg immediately hits you in the face with a documentary feel. The film is incredibly grainy and shot in black and white. Stellan Skarsgård gives a great performance and is currently most famous for his role as Dr. Erik Selvig from Thor, its sequel and The Avengers.
Directed by John Woo (Hard Boiled, Broken Arrow, Mission Impossible II)
The Driver is hired by the FBI to help defuse a hostage situation. He is asked to follow ransom demands and deliver a large sum of money. Upon arrival at the kidnapper’s location, a dilapidated house, it is revealed that a SWAT team is standing by to storm the residence.
Once inside The Driver listens to the kidnapper who turns out to be a disgruntled employee who has kidnapped the CEO of a fast food corporation. He demands that The Driver burns the ransom money on a barbecue already lit inside the house. The kidnapper asks The Driver to write the strange sum of money on his hand and then asks what does it feel like to hold someone’s life in his hand.
Before The Driver can find out where the hostage is, the SWAT team burst into the house and the kidnapper tries to take his own life. The Driver realises that the strange sum of money is actually a mobile phone number and calls it.
The hostage answers the phone and reveals she’s trapped in the trunk of a car. The Driver speeds off to try and find her whilst trying to outrun the police who think that his irregular driving is because he’s a car thief.
The Driver eventually rescues the CEO and takes her to see the kidnapper who is barely holding onto his life in hospital. The cruel twist is that the kidnapper and CEO were lovers and he was spurned by her and tried for revenge.
Directed by Joe Carnahan (The A-Team, The Grey)
The opening shot of a rolling road is soon joined by the sound of ricocheting bullets and bullet cases hitting the road. As the camera pulls back, it reveals The Driver is under attack from an armed helicopter. His passenger (Don Cheadle) holds onto a metal briefcase as is if his life depend on it.
The driver manages to outwit the helicopter pilot and eventually looses them permanently in an ingenious fashion. The passenger notices his briefcase has bit struck by bullet fire and is leaking fluid. A digital readout on the case has started counting down to zero.
Thinking its some form of explosive device, The Driver demands to know what’s in the case before he carries on driving. A series of flashbacks explain that the case is eagerly sought after by an armed force in red berets and they nearly had it once already.
The passenger explains the briefcase contains freedom and handcuffs it to The Driver who then guns the car down the road. At the destination, it is revealed the briefcase contains a human heart for a transplant to an elderly general who wears the same red beret military uniform as seen earlier. We learn it was the general’s son who wanted the briefcase, then he could stop the operation and rule over the unnamed country.
The General’s son tries to intervene but is held back by American agents played by Ray Liotta, a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ appearance by Robert Patrick and Dennis Haybert who most will recognise as the American president for several seasons of the popular television show, 24.
Beat the Devil
Directed by Tony Scott (Top Gun, Enemy Of The State)
The film opens in 1952 where a young black man is meeting a stranger in a car, somewhere out in the Las Vegas desert. This is intercut with November 2002, where it is revealed this young man was in fact the legendary James Brown.
The Driver is taking James Brown to meet a strange man in a run-down hotel in downtown Las Vegas. It turns out the man they’ve come to meet is in fact the Devil (Gary Oldman). James wants to renegotiate his contract for fame and fortune, as he is becoming too old to perform.
The Devil says that he has fulfilled his end of the bargain and so James offers a friendly wager, The Drivers life for another fifty years of fame and fortune. He proposes a drag race at dawn, down the Las Vegas strip, The Driver vs the Devils doorman/driver (Danny Trejo).
The two cars set off and go speeding down the strip. The end of the race has The Driver swerving past a speeding freight train whilst the Devil’s car crashes and explodes in a ball of flames. The Driver asks James Brown to get out of the car and once he drives away he looks into his rear view mirror to see a young James Brown perform a jump into the splits.
The film ends with a bruised and battered Devil sitting back in his hotel room when there’s a knock at the door from a fellow guest. Marilyn Manson is complaining about the noise and could they keep it down as he is trying to read the bible. To which the Devil responds,
“Complaining about the noise. Have you heard the racket he makes?”
The film cuts to black and the soundtrack cuts to Marilyn Manson track, Rock Is Dead.
This is my favourite of all the short films in this series. It’s shot and edited with such a fast pace, that there’s never a chance for the film to get boring and it moves at such a frantic pace. Gary Oldman is brilliant as the Devil and has some great lines. I especially liked the end of the race where glimpses of the Devil’s true form start to emerge through his human form.
So there you have it, a very lavish, and expensive set of car commercials for BMW involving some of Hollywood’s top talent both behind and in front of the movie camera. These short films are definitely worth checking out and I wouldn’t worry about hunting down a copy of the DVD as all of these films are easily available on YouTube.
I’ll leave you with my favourite, Beat The Devil.