I am very, very happy to report that I was right! The Accidental Getaway Driver is that bitch. The Sundance 2023 entry follows Long (Hiệp Trần Nghĩa), a Vietnamese cab driver in Southern California, who answers a late night call for a ride. Instead of a regular pick up, Long gets taken hostage at gunpoint by Tây (Dustin Nguyen) and his two companions, who recently escaped the Orange County jail. What ensues is a terrifying hostage tale, as these convicts try to enact their escape plan while also connecting – deeply – with the person who’ll be forced to end their lives once this is all over.
The Accidental Getaway Driver is just perfect. A fast build bleeds out into a slow trickle; we feel the painful passage of time as hours turn into days and become moments for knowing. A violent facade breaks down into nothing more than scared people doing aggressive things to pretend they still have a semblance of control over their lives. But this film’s most ardent move is showing a lonely man make a friend out of someone to whom he would never other wise have given a second thought – and the same could’ve been said about him.
The more we live, the more we make mistakes, and the more we refuse to learn and grow from them, the more isolated we become. I hadn’t given this much thought until Covid, but, as a society, we just sort of forget about the elderly. I’m fortunate to live very close to one of my grandmothers and see her often; my other grandparents, though, live one a different continent to us. Humans are as social as we can be introverted; we seek out connection everywhere we go. So what surprised me most of all about The Accidental Getaway Driver is how Long breaks down his walls for Tây, currently seeking nothing more than immediate gratification, to catch a glimpse into his possible future: alone and disconnected from those he loves the most.
There’s a reason why Sing J. Lee won Sundance’s directing award for this film. His human approach to telling this story is slow and methodical. He blends a bleak story with beautiful imagery – flashbacks envelop the protagonist as he faces his past in a moments-before-death manner, a wake up call to action and change. Lee’s striking visual style mirrors The Accidental Getaway Driver‘s central conflict and aligns its characters’ dramatic conflicts. While this is a story about the crime, it’s even more a story about the relationships forged as a result.
The core four are incredible, each with their own forces driving to do the things they do. Hiệp Trần Nghĩa delivers a heartbreaking performance as Long, his past heavy on his shoulders, the overwhelming finality of his situation allowing him to finally confront just how awful a person he’s been. Long owns up to his flaws in a way that, as we know, Asian people refuse to do. Dustin Nguyen is also a standout as Tây: the relationship he forges with Long becomes the heart at the center of The Accidental Getaway Driver, but his relationship with his family and his understanding of how his actions can affect them leads Tây to change and pushes the story in another direction.