The Hire Review
The Hire is a collection of five short films by some of the hottest directing talent in the cinema world today – John Frankenheimer (Ronin), Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Wong Kar-Wai (In The Mood For Love), Guy Ritchie (Snatch) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros). The five films, each around ten minutes long, were commissioned by BMW to promote their current range of on-the-road motor cars.
All the films star Clive Owen as ‘The Driver’, a chauffer and driver for hire, doing some difficult and not always legal driving jobs in a variety of tricky circumstances that require him to do some fancy driving in a cool-looking BMW car. While the films are strictly nothing more than extended advertisements for BMW, each director manages to imprint their distinctive trademark style onto their short film – some of them more inventively than others.
Ambush (7:44) - John Frankenheimer
Owen is driving a client who is smuggling diamonds and has to escape from a gang of masked men attempting a high-speed hold up. There is plenty of action and tension in this short film (6 minutes long without the end-titles), which is written by Andrew Kevin Walker who also scripted Seven. The cars get a serious work-out, busting through road-works, avoiding head-on trucks – all the usual car chase conventions. In fact, that would be my only complaint about the Frankenheimer film - it is a little too conventional and more of an advertisement than some of the other films here. But it works well enough. The director’s commentary is interesting, talking about how effects were done and about choice of shots and his thoughts on the ability of the actors. He says just about all you can say about a 6 minute film. (7/10)
Chosen (10:26) - Ang Lee
The Driver is at a NY shipyard to meet an 8 year old Tibetan boy - played by Lee’s son, Mason Lee, unaware that there are some other cars are waiting for him. A car chase immediately ensues with lots of gun-play. Again the plot is nothing special, but the photography, set in the docks with the New York skyline as the backdrop for the action, is excellent as is the unusual choice of baroque string quartet music with Tibetan flutes and pipes. In the commentary Lee talks a little about the car, but doesn’t have much to say about the making of the film itself and there are long silences throughout. I didn’t enjoy this film much, finding it relying too much on standard car chases and gun-play, a far-fetched and clichéd plot with a shameless and pointless plug for his forthcoming Hulk movie. (5/10)
The Follow (10:42) - Wong Kar-Wai
A movie star, played by Mickey Rourke, suspects his wife of infidelity. His agent (Forest Whitaker) gets The Driver to take on the job of following her, but The Driver finds that there is more behind the wife’s suspicious actions that he suspected. The film, again written by Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven), is a small masterpiece. Very subtle and understated in typical Wong Kar-Wai style, it is beautifully lit, photographed and acted. Whitaker is particularly good in a small, uncredited role. Wong Kar-Wai again demonstrates his impeccable taste in choice of music to capture mood and the interior monologue narration brings us very much into the film. With an airport scene that is very reminiscent of the bar scene in Chungking Express, this film, which only runs 8 minutes without the credits is a masterpiece of concision, subtlety and originality and is pure Wong Kar-Wai. Wonderful. (10/10)
Star (9:08) - Guy Ritchie
Madonna sends herself up as a temperamental and capricious pop-star, while Owen is The Driver who has been hired to take her to the venue where she is performing and give her a little taste of her own medicine. The advice at the end of each film to always use your seat-belt was never more appropriate than for this film. It is very funny indeed, with some nice touches – Owen deadpanning brilliantly, clicking his fingers as he drives at breakneck speed to Blur’s Song 2, and there are a number of clever and inventive shots. Guy Ritchie’s commentary is good – he clearly enjoyed the chance to make this film and was keen to make creative use of the camera rigs on the cars, which had been specially created for earlier films. He succeeds and brings a welcome dose of humour, freshness and originality to the car chase genre. (10/10)
Powder Keg (13:53) - Alejandro González Iñárritu
Powder Keg is a very different film in this collection from Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director of Amores Perros. Filmed in hand-held 16mm, it has a grainy, washed-out documentary-like feel. It tells the story of a wounded photo-journalist (played by Breaking The Waves star, Stellan Skarsgård) who The Driver is trying to get out of the country to deliver important reels of film. Based on a real-life event in Mexico – the Aguas Blancas killings, the film is tense and emotionally charged. Iñárritu provides an superb commentary in excellent English, and taking a swipe at Traffic perhaps, makes the point that the drugs situation is a lot more complex that certain recent films would have you believe. Powder Keg is a good piece of film-making and the director has clearly put a lot into it to make it a powerful and personal film, rather than an advert for BMW cars – most of the action taking place within the close and cramped confines of the dirty and rather battered car rather than showing it off from the outside. Like all the films in the series, it has a little twist or punch-line at the end, which the director says he hoped wasn’t too melodramatic, but I found it a little overstated. (8/10)
While the overall picture quality on this DVD cannot be faulted, it does suffer from lack of anamorphic enhancement. The first four films use the 2.35:1 aspect ratio and look stunning with no marks or scratches of any kind. Colours are deep and clear and faithfully represented. Only Iñárritu varies from the uniform look of the pieces with his hand-held 16mm filming and 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Any problems with grain in this film are therefore intentional. Zooming the NTSC picture for a widescreen television will however noticeably reduce the quality of the image for all the films.
My DVD player reports a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack which is curious because rear sounds are clearly evident. The packaging states Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, so I’m inclined to believe that and my ears rather than my DVD player. The sound quality is excellent throughout. Subtitles are provided in English for hard of hearing, and there are even subtitles included for the commentaries.
There are five linking sub-stories, directed by Ben Younger, each about 2 minutes in length. Filmed in 1.85:1 (out of synch with most of the other films) on what appears to be a hand-held digital camera, the purpose of these short films is to provide a link between the main films and create one overarching story-line. This doesn’t really work and these are best ignored, leaving the films to stand alone as individual episodes.
Specifications are provided on the BMW cars used in the film - the 540i, 330Ci and the Z3 roadster 3.0i.
Biographies are provided for all the directors.
Trailers are provided for each of the short films and there are three 15 second teasers for the whole series also included.
There is a series of captioned photos for each film, showing behind the scenes images of the actors and directors and set-ups and car-rigs, showing how the cameras are attached to the cars.
Storyboards are provided for two of the films - Chosen and Star.
Presented by Bill Auberlen, this is a 5-minute featurette on "things you can do with your BMW, but shouldn’t". This is the real advertisement on the DVD, talking about how cool each of the cars are.
A short 5 minute featurette of interviews and behind the scenes footage during the making of the films.
With the quality of the directors and actors present on these films and the comprehensive collection of extras, this is a superb package that goes far beyond being a mere promotional package for BMW cars. None of these films have had a theatrical release and this promotional DVD is not commercially available. All the films can be viewed online or downloaded from www.bmwfilms.com. You may be able to get a free copy of this promotional DVD, as I did, by clicking the Contact The Site Representative link under Help, and simply asking about the DVD release. It’s well worth the trouble.