Sundance 2023: The Accidental Getaway Driver Review
The need for family and a connection to home invades the escape attempts of three fugitives and the older man forced into their plans in The Accidental Getaway Driver. The feelings of disconnect from the rest of the world lays the groundwork for a richly layered but languidly paced exploration of the importance of maintaining a lifeline to your heritage and culture. Sing J. Lee’s slow-burn drama presents the true story it’s based on with an acute visual acumen that captures the unnerving intensity of the situation and the surprisingly heartening bonds that form within a harrowing situation.
Lee and Christopher Chen’s screenplay – adapted from the GQ article of the same name by Paul Kix – is built on disconnect and divides between characters. When Long Mã (Hiệp Trần Nghĩa) gets into his cab to secure a late-night fare in Southern California, he’s already alone and seemingly severed from the rest of the world. Living within an apartment complex in a primarily Vietnamese community, Long doesn’t seem to socialize much, and his connection to the outside world is tenuous at best. The cab appears to be his only gateway to human interaction. When he’s greeted by Tây (Dustin Nguyen) in his native language of Vietnamese, there’s a bond that quickly surfaces. However, just as soon as it forms, it’s dismantled, as a simple pick-up and drop-off become an increasing series of suspicious requests by Tây and his two friends, Aden (Dali Benssalah) and Eddie (Phi Vu).
The bond is wholly disintegrated once Long discovers that the three men he has been driving around are on the lam and have now kidnapped Long for an indeterminate amount of time. What sounds like an exciting thriller deftly reveals itself to be the opposite. Despite some thrilling sequences closer to the film’s end, The Accidental Getaway Driver is a meditative gaze into the vitality of friendship and family. It’s a solemn reflection on how those connections matter, regardless of how they form or where they lead us. As Long watches the three fugitives holed up in a hotel room (which acts as the setting for most of Lee’s film), it becomes clear that these men believe they are all they have left.
What becomes most compelling about The Accidental Getaway Driver is how that belief gets prodded by brief moments of respite in Long’s capture. While he is technically a hostage, the relationship that forms between him and Tây takes on a strength that seems to carry both characters through their predicament. It’s shared feelings of home and the disappointment and guilt about how they’ve lived to this point combined with the notion that despite their age difference, they can relate to one another.
Fixated on how Long perceives these men and memories of his past that keep pushing themselves forward due to how uncertain his future is now, The Accidental Getaway Driver’s slow pacing is dictated mainly by its main character. Hiệp Trần Nghĩa’s performance has to convey an insurmountable burden that cements his inability to pull himself away from the situation. Long is a character that seems to learn empathy as the film progresses. Through Michael Cambio Fernandez’s photography, the audience becomes attuned to the same gradual realization through a watchful eye on Long and his captors.
It can occasionally be a taxing pace, though, and there are moments when the film feels stretched thin. However, it then snaps back into place and reemphasizes the ties that bind its characters beyond pure circumstance. It’s the empathy that Lee’s direction conveys that roots The Accidental Getaway Driver to the heart of its characters as opposed to the events that have driven them to their current situation. Lee’s direction is perhaps too steady throughout, but it culminates in a heartwarming and assured resolution where characters are seen for who they can be and not who they are.