October 25, 2003
John Frankenheimer, Ang Lee, Wong Kar-Wai, Guy Ritchie, Alejandro González Iñárritu,
Starring: Clive Owen, Tomas Milian, Mason Lee, Adriana Lima, Mickey Rourke, Forest Whitaker, Madonna, Michael Beattie, Stellan Skarsgård, Lois Smith,
In 2001, BMW and filmmaker, David Fincher (Fight Club), created a series of ambitious short films promoting their cars. Fincher selected five internationally acclaimed directors to make the films and allowed gave them complete artistic control. The only provision being that each film had to star British actor, Clive Owen (Gosford Park), and the car of choice had to obviously be given prominent exposure. The result: a diverse collection that runs the gamut of genres from action to drama, but that ultimately reflect the personality and preoccupations of each filmmaker.
“Ambush” is the first short film and features the Driver (Owen) and a man (Milian) carrying two million dollars worth of diamonds on his person. Suddenly, a mysterious van pulls alongside the car, the side door opens and a masked man aims a gun at the Driver and his passenger. He must make a choice: surrender his passenger and the diamonds or try to evade his dangerous opponents.
John Frankenheimer’s effort is an action-packed chase piece that takes the best elements from his film, Ronin (1998), and condenses them into an exciting 10-minute short. “Ambush” showcases the director’s workman-like approach to filmmaking and his knack for an economic style of storytelling that he perfected with classics, like The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seconds (1968).
“Chosen” features the Driver meeting a young, Tibetan boy (Lee), literally, fresh off the boat. Two black cars approach and pursue the Driver and the child to their destination.
The incredibly versatile Ang Lee shows a knack for yet another genre with this expertly shot short film. During the extensive car chase sequence, Lee opts to have baroque classical music playing throughout, which juxtaposes the chaotic action that is occurring on-screen. In fact, the entire film feels like an expertly orchestrated piece of music with Lee as the maestro.
“The Follow” has the Driver hired by a self-absorbed movie star (Rourke) to tail the man’s beautiful wife (Lima) because he suspects her of infidelity.
“The Follow” is the best short film in the collection as Wong Kar-Wai relegates the car to the background and he follows his own muse. With its warm, sepia tone and use of music to reflect how the characters feel, this short often resembles a Michael Mann film. However, Wong’s trademark use of voiceover, where the protagonist espouses his personal philosophy, and the moody, often poetic atmosphere leave no doubt as to who directed this short.
“Star” has a goofier, more whimsical feel to it as the Driver must take an obnoxious rock star (Madonna – who else?) to her venue. Along the way, the Driver has a bit of fun at the celebrity’s expense, giving her a wild ride that she won’t soon forget.
Guy Ritchie’s short is everything you’d expect from the man who wrote and directed Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1999) and Snatch (2000). “Star” is filled with the British filmmaker’s characteristically cheeky sense of humour and knack for matching popular music with kinetic camerawork. Richie’s film also allows the stoic Owen to cut loose and have some fun.
“Powder Keg” follows a war photographer (Skarsgard) who is wounded while documenting a village massacre in some unnamed Third World country. The Driver picks up the man and makes a run for the border with government troops in hot pursuit.
Alejandro Iñárritu’s short uses gritty film stock and is shot entirely with a shaky, hand-held camera style by famed cinematographer, Robert Richardson (Casino). This is quite a shock, stylistically, compared to the glossy sheen of the other shorts. Iñárritu all but ignores the BMW vehicle in favour of getting his political message across. In some ways, “Powder Keg” looks and feels a lot like Oliver Stone’s Salvador (which Richardson, also shot) or the Mexico segments in Traffic (2000). This makes Iñárritu’s short the most thrilling one of the collection because it deviates the most daringly from BMW’s mandate.
Ben Younger (Boiler Room) directed a collection of substories that link each of the short films together. Shot with a digital camera, these “stories” look more like a outtakes from a bad student film and have very little to do with short films. A five minute featurette, entitled “Driving Techniques,” focuses on how they did all the crazy stunts in the five short films.
There are short biographies on each director, teaser trailers for all the short films, and a photo gallery that features stills from the shorts, the car rigs that were used and storyboards from “Chosen” and “Star.”
The second featurette, entitled “The Making of The Hire,” is a five and a half minute promotional spot that interviews Clive Owen and all the directors (except for Iñárritu) who briefly talk about working on these short films. It is padded with footage from the shorts and lacks any real substance.
The strongest extra is the audio commentaries by the five directors. John Frankenheimer’s track is wonderfully informative as he talks about how BMW let himactually shoot the cars full of bullets and really push them to their limits. Ang Lee’s commentary is very casual and laid-back with such choice tidbits as revealing thatthe Tibetan child is played by one of his sons. Wong Kar-Wai’s track is sparse but is enjoyable for his fans as he talks about his love of improvisation and speaks admiringly of working with Forest Whitaker. Guy Ritchie’s commentary is a bit flat as the director duly notes how he wasn’t interested in doing commercials but the roster of filmmakers and the ability to have complete artistic control was too tempting for him to pass up. Finally, Alejandro Iñárritu’s track is the most fascinating as he explains that the short was based on a real event that happened in Mexico many years ago. He also talks about how he and cinematographer, Bob Richardson, improvised constantly with the camera, shooting “Powder Keg” like a documentary with 16 mm film.
If you’re a die-hard fan of any of these directors then acquiring a copy of The Hire off of eBay is a must. This DVD features the extended directors’ cuts of “Chosen”, “The Follow”, and “Powder Keg,” and is definitely worth a look based on the strengths of Wong’s and Iñárritu’s films. But be warned, according to Nathaneil Thompson’s review in the March 2002 issue of Video Watchdog, later pressings of this disc do not feature “The Follow.” The disc only mentions that “Contractual obligations prevent us from presenting ‘The Follow’ on DVD.” It is also unavailable on their website. If you decide to track this DVD down, make sure it is one of the earlier versions that features Wong’s film.
Website: http:// www.bmwfilms.com/