Sundance 2023: Shortcomings, The Accidental Getaway Driver | Festivals & Awards

Park is on his way to finding a distinct attitude of his own as a filmmaker and kicks his debut off with a bold, laugh-out-loud statement: A parody of “Crazy Rich Asians,” which allows Ben to later be snide but eloquent about how such a movie is a cheap win for Asian-American representation in movies. But then Park goes back on this statement later in the movie in a crowd-pleasing way, hinting that he’s not trying to shake things up too much just yet. He’s figuring out his inner Ben first. 

Much of the power in “The Accidental Getaway Driver,” a bold and graceful crime movie from director/co-writer Sing J. Lee, starts with the big, soft eyes of Long Mã (Hiep Tran Nghia), an elderly Vietnamese cab driver. One night, he is wrangled into a scary 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 when instructing him not to do anything stupid. Trapped, Long Mã hardly says anything back. He’s not going to fight back; 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 closeup, from the nose up, the steering wheel blocking the bottom of his face. Throughout this film’s finely tuned emotional journey, you could almost cry just looking at them in these shots.  

“The Accidental Getaway Driver” is based on a true story but does not need that context to explain how its characters become so three-dimensional and its story so captivating with humanity. Showing great promise for future characters, Lee establishes a sense of empathy for his three ex-convicts (including the frigid Aden [Dali Benssalah] and young Eddie [Phi Vu]), who are frightening and mysterious at first as they take Long Mã from one place to the next. A motel, then a pick-up, it’s one shady thing after another. The three fugitives are bonded tightly, and in a funny moment, one of them takes a picture of when they’re on the news. But there is a growing sense of sadness that gradually, naturally, comes out. Long Mã reminds them of some part of themselves, and they talk to him in a manner that recognizes how some people need to be heard to heal. 

Lee’s confident film has numerous moments of filmmaking magic, and one illustrative scene demands a note: Benssalaah’s Aden, tired of running, bares his soul and shame while sitting in the pale moonlight. The camera pushes in on him, with the glint of his eyes at first making him scary. But as the camera gets closer to his face, his tone changes and tears on his face are revealed. It encapsulates this movie’s striking ideology that it applies to the other men as well: to look closer at one’s fear and find intricate empathy. 

“The Accidental Getaway Driver” needs such calibration to be effective, which might be why its dreamier flashbacks are a little less moving—though the scenes are artfully conceived, tours through the tragic moments of Long Ma’s past almost feel like extra weight to what is happening in the present. Lee’s film does some wondrous things with the four characters stuck in the same situation; it’s also telling how the movie does not need violence to be a deeply human thriller. 

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