Saturday, May 12, 2012

Anthology Breakdown: The Hire

New column: reviewing and grading each specific film within a single anthology film. The rules will have be skewed slightly depending on what film (or as is the case with today’s post, what series of films) is being reviewed, but by and large, an anthology film is meant to be viewed and examined as one collective venture. Let’s see what happens when we break them down.

If you were alive and well when BMW started releasing editions of The Hire online in 2001, then you may be aware of its impact.  The Hire was revolutionary to the way we view our entertainment. The concept was simple: eight short films, all roughly 10 minutes in length, all directed by famous filmmakers, all featuring the same character, known only as “The Driver.”

The concept itself wasn’t groundbreaking. The marketing was. For one of the first instances ever, a major company (in this case, BMW) decided to market their new product (in this case, cars) online via a series of webisodes. Today, you can’t get on the internet without seeing some major star in some hot shit webisode that promotes X product. In today’s world, they’re a step above a commercial. But with The Hire, they were genuine works of art.

Also, it’s important to note that The Hire was, essentially, America’s first glimpse at Clive Owen. He had starred in Croupier in 1998 (which no one saw), but Owen’s work in The Hire led to his big break in The Bourne Identity, which led to Closer, which led to, well, you get it.

Dir. by John Frankenheimer
Ambush opens with The Driver chauffeuring a businessman around on one cold, dark night. Seconds into the film, a dark van pulls beside them, the doors open, guns are drawn and The Driver is instructed to pull his car over so that the thieves can nab the millions in uncut diamonds currently being held by the businessman. The Driver, never one to relent to a threat, speeds up, and a brilliant car chase that rivals anything in Frankenheimer’s Ronin ensues.

Thrilling, dirty, and quick, with an amusing ending that leaves you guessing. B+

Dir. by Ang Lee
After The Driver picks up a young Asian boy (who clearly represents royalty) on a boat pier, they are immediately pursed by assailants who want the boy dead. The result is a clever, humorous car chase on a large pier, scored entirely to soft, Asian-inspired music. But the chase is just half the show here. Later, in scenes I won’t reveal, Owen gets to display his knack for saying so much without speaking a word. B

The Follow
Dir. by Wong Kar-wai
In The Follow, which is by far the best short in the series, The Driver is hired by the manager of a famous actor to follow the actor’s wife. A few things make The Follow stand so far out from the rest of The Hire shorts: one, it’s not straightforward. Its tale is intricate, its narrative is non-linear, and its execution is thought provoking. Two: it is flawlessly, insightfully narrated by The Driver, which is a welcome change from the rest of the shorts, in which Clive Owen speaks little situational dialogue. It’s shot cold a beautifully by Harris Savides, scored to a perfectly tender Spanish ballad, and directed with that remarkable skill that we all know Wong Kar-wai possesses.

Aside from being the best short here, The Follow is some of the best work ever done by all of the people involved. It’s curious, beautiful, revealing, and all-together remarkable. The final spoken line of this short is one of the best, most concise philosophies on life that I’ve ever heard. A+

Dir. by Guy Ritchie
By far the most fun inclusion to the series is Guy Ritchie’s Star, in which Ritchie’s then-wife Madonna, playing a hyperbolic version of herself, is taken on a fast and furious and fucking hilarious drive around the town she’s singing in that evening. The Driver has some serious fun mucking the star up – speeding, turning, jumping – taking full advantage of a healthy paycheck and a bruised ego in the backseat, all while Blur’s notoriously overplayed “Song 2” blares to perfection over the soundtrack. Make no mistake, Star is one seriously good time. A

Powder Keg
Dir. by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Shot in that cold, gritty, overexposed Iñárritu way, Powder Keg tracks The Driver as he attempts to get an injured, veteran war photographer out of a tumultuous war zone. This short is many things, namely the best-written Hire film, dialogue wise, with notable passages like:

“You know what really gets me about being a war photographer?”
“I never have time to play with my kids.”
“So how many you got?”

Also note that Powder Keg’s tender, thoughtful conclusion used Carlos Varela’s tender, thoughtful “Una Palabra” long before Tony Scott’s Man on Fire did. A

Dir. by John Woo
After a jealous husband kills himself in his home, The Driver has minutes to find the man’s wife, who he left for dead in the trunk of his car. As the car slowly begins to sink into the river, The Driver has the wife (via cell phone) describe as best she can where she is, while the FBI (via earpiece) tracks the wife’s cell phone and gives The Driver step-by-step directions to her whereabouts. Basically, Hostage is as cookie-cutter as it sounds, and if not for a thrilling car chase sequence that culminates on a bridge, it would be written off as just that. B-

Dir. by Joe Carnahan
Because time is so limited, most of the shorts in The Hire series begin in the middle of the action, which, in Ticker’s case, is a very large helicopter shooting a very large gun at a very small BMW.

The Driver must drive an injured Don Cheadle to an unknown location before something happens to whatever is in the briefcase handcuffed to Cheadle’s wrist. Chaos ensues, exhilarating chases are had, and we’re left with a perfectly satisfying conclusion. Definitely one of the more thrilling shorts in the series. A-

Beat the Devil
Dir. by Tony Scott
If someone told me that they had it on good authority that Tony Scott was coked out of his mind during the shooting and editing of Beat the Devil, then you wouldn’t hear any argument from me.  In Scott’s short, James Brown is escorted by The Driver to a seedy Las Vegas club in which Brown re-negotiates his deal with the Devil that he made decades ago. If Brown and The Driver beat the British, lipstick wearing Devil (played fabulously by Gary Oldman, in his most out there performance since Scott’s True Romance) in a drag race, then Brown will become 50 years younger.

Without divulging anymore of what happens, let me just say that if you thought Scott’s filmmaking techniques from Man on Fire onward were dizzying to the point of paralysis well, as The Godfather of Soul himself might say, baby, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. A

All of The Hire films are easily available via YouTube, but this BMW Blog has been kind enough to include them all for you here.


  1. I can't say I've heard much of this series, so as usual you've thoroughly impressed me with something completely unfamiliar to me. Great work.

    You should do The Decalogue as part of this anthology series. Just sayin'.

    1. Thanks man. You'd really dig some of these HIRE shorts, check 'em out sometime. And The Decalogue is definitely on my Anthology list. That one will take slightly more time than this HIRE write-up though. Kind of a lot more going on haha

  2. I've only seen half of these shorts. The ones by Lee, Kar-Wai, Innaritu, and Richie. Maybe it's time I do the whole thing. I do like anthology films and there's a few I need to see as some of them relate to the filmmakers I'm profiling.

    I suggest doing Chacun Son Cinema which is a collection of 3-minute shorts by some of the world's best filmmakers. There's a few of them on YouTube including the Coen Brothers' short World Cinema which I totally recommend.

    1. Oh nice suggestion man. I'm all over that. Thanks.

  3. Haven't even heard of it. But premise intrigues me. I will try to find it if I can.

    1. They're really good. Also, I posted a link at the bottom of the post that takes you to every short, if you're interested.

    2. Now, that I have seen them all, I think I agree with almost all your ratings. Ambush and Chosen one were pretty straight forward. Star, Powder keg, Beat the devil and Ticker were brilliant. I even think Hostage wasn't too bad either. And Follow - definitely was better as a movie, even without a notable car chase in all other shorts. I agree with everything you said about it. Thanks for the Link !!

    3. Hey man, really glad you enjoyed them, it's just a great way to spend an hour, isn't it? Follow... that thing is just breathtaking. How batshit crazy is Beat the Devil? Love it.

  4. Great write up! I saw this years ago and my favorite ones were the one by Inarittu and Ritchie. Owen was really fantastic in this series.

    1. Thanks! When I saw Clive in this, I distinctly remember saying, "Man, that guy is gonna be a star."

      How right I was ;)

  5. i saw these years ago and forgot about them, gonna have to rewatch.

  6. Nice writeup. WKW's is my favorite as well. Excellent narration, absolutely perfect atmosphere, and that beautiful music is unforgettable.

    1. Nice! Love hearing that. If I'm ever feeling uninspired or just creatively down, I'll watch that. Excellent boost. Thanks for commenting!

  7. I love the series, I discovered it a couple of years ago on youtube and I saw the whole thing for Clive Owen. My favorites are Powder Keg (just for the use of Una Palabra, one of the saddest, most heartbreaking songs ever) and Beat the Devil, but also The Follow and Star!

    1. They way Iñárritu used that song is just devastating, isn't it? Glad to hear you dig this series!

  8. Finally got around to seeing them all and it was a fun ride. There even is a new one available! I thought Powder Keg was the strongest one and although Madonna can't act, Star was hilarious.

    1. I have to check the new one out! I love Powder Keg and Star. I suppose The Follow has stayed with me the most.