Park is on his way to finding his own attitude as a filmmaker and kicks off his debut with a bold, laugh-out-loud statement: a parody of “Crazy Rich Asians,” which later allows Ben to be sarcastic yet eloquent. on how such a movie is a cheap win for Asian-American representation in movies. But then Park backtracks on that statement later in the film in a crowd-pleasing way, hinting that he’s not trying to shake things up too much just yet. He first discovers his inner Ben.
Much of the power in ” The accidentally fleeing driver”, a bold and graceful crime film from director/co-writer Sing J. Lee, begins with the big soft eyes of Long Mã (Hiep Tran Nghia), an elderly Vietnamese taxi driver. One night, he is thrust into a chilling situation when his riders turn out to be three escaped convicts. One of them, Dustin Nguyen’s Tây, has a gun and speaks Vietnamese to Long Mã ordering him not to do anything stupid. Trapped, Long Mã barely responds. He’s not going to retaliate; he’s not going to run away. He can only accept what will happen to him. Lee and cinematographer Michael Fernandez sometimes film Long Mã in poignant, extreme close-ups, from the nose up, with the frill blocking the lower part of her face. Throughout this film’s finely tuned emotional journey, you could almost cry just watching them in these shots.
“The Accidental Getaway Driver” is based on a true story but doesn’t need that context to explain how its characters become so three-dimensional and its story so gripping with humanity. Showing great promise for future characters, Lee establishes a sense of empathy for his three ex-convicts (including the frosty Aden [Dali Benssalah] and young Eddie [Phi Vu]), which are at first creepy and mysterious as they take Long Mã from place to place. A motel, then a pickup, it’s one dodgy thing after another. The three fugitives are tightly bonded, and in a fun moment, one of them snaps a photo as they go on the news. But there is a growing sense of sadness that comes on gradually, naturally. Long Mã reminds them of a part of themselves and they speak to her in a way that recognizes how much some people need to be heard in order to heal.
Lee’s confident film has many moments of cinematic magic, and one illustrative scene deserves a note: Aden of Benssalaah, tired of running, bares his soul and his shame as he sits in the pale moonlight. The camera zooms in on him, the glint in his eyes making him scary at first. But as the camera gets closer to her face, her tone changes and tears on her face are revealed. It encapsulates the film’s striking ideology that it applies to other men as well: to look more closely at your fear and find complex empathy.
“The Accidental Getaway Driver” needs such calibration to be effective, which perhaps explains why its more dreamy flashbacks are a little less moving – although the scenes are artfully crafted, the tours through the tragic moments of the Long Ma’s past almost feels like an extra weight to what is happening in the present. Lee’s film does wonderful things with all four characters stuck in the same situation; it is also to say how the film does not need violence to be a deeply human thriller.
Sundance 2023: Shortcomings, The Accidental Getaway Driver | Festivals & Awards | Pretty Reel