In 2001, BMW hit on the idea of promoting their cars with a
series of short films available exclusively on the web. BMW attracted A-list talents from
the world over. Five directors took up the challenge in season one and three in season
two. Each director was given five BMWs for his shoot, a multimillion-dollar budget, and
complete creative control, as long as his film centered around some sort of car race,
chase, or driving mission. The result is an eclectic mix of films that mostly entertain
and sometimes provoke. Although the directors were given free reign with regards to the
story, they had to link these films together by using actor Clive Owen as the mysterious
James Bondish driver.
The first five films, first shown at bmwfilms.com and later on
Bravo and Speed Channel, were directed by John Frankenheimer, Ang Lee, Wong Kar-Wai, Guy
Ritchie and Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu. David Fincher acted as the executive director
for the first five. Powder Keg premiered on July 16, 2001.
Shot in Guajaca, Mexico, Powder Keg was cast by Manuel Teil Casting, Mexico
City. Bruce Bildsten, creative director at Fallon, notes that Powder Keg was a
very gritty, weighty film, and that the primary goal of casting was to find top-notch
actors, not necessarily household names. "Stellan is one of those great actors you
see in film over the years, whether it be in U.S. or European movies," explains
Bildsten. "He looked the part; he felt the part - he delivered the goods. And in the
cameo at the end, his mother was played by Lois Smith. The goal was to get great people.
We weren't interested in a marquee name."
Director Iñárritu said BMW let him make the film as he saw fit, without pushing the
car to the forefront. "They were very respectful and allowed me all the freedom I
wanted," he said. "It's not about the car. It's about what's happening inside
the car, and more than that, what's happening inside the characters. You don't have to
know the car to understand the story."
At the 11th annual Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) Show, Powder
Keg was honored in the Cinematography and Talent/Performance categories.
Positive feedback 'round the Net:
"This was by far the grittiest and most serious of the films. The Driver has to
get a photographer (Stellan Skarsgård) out of Columbia, after he's wounded while
photographing innocent people being gunned down by members of a drug cartel. The picture
of this film is very grainy, which helps convey the gritty feel even more. The music at
the end really worked well. The Powder Keg is a terrific mix of drama and
"What's remarkable about The Hire series is that selling the car is
passive. For instance, in Powder Keg, Stellan Skarsgård lies bleeding on the
plush back seat of a BMW M-series car, as Clive Owen speeds through the countryside
evading helicopters and bullets. Skarsgård talks about life and death, the nonsense of
war, and the honor and horror of witnessing with his camera. Never once does he say, 'Boy,
it's really a shame that I'm spilling copious amounts of blood on this beautiful leather
interior' or 'Gosh, this is such a smooth ride over rough terrain. Tell me about the
"This film, in comparison to any other film of The Hire series is
possibly the best. The mark of Alejandro González Iñárritu is without contest the
deepest one I've seen to date. It can't be denied that every second of the films matters
in one way or another, either it is the feel of the environment, characters or even the
state of mind. But since I'm a fan of his work I think I might be a little biased. The
real hero of the film is actually the photographer's mother (Lois Smith) who really made a
spectacular performance. I've seen the film about five times and I am still touched by her
"Shot in grainy 16mm with handheld camera and nearly washed out colors, the film
has a documentary feel that reinforces its realism and intensity as it moves along.
Skarsgård and Owen are both great in this gritty tale, and there is a haunting song to
accompany the performances."
"Amores Perros dynamo Alejandro González Iñárritu helms the final
chapter in The Hire series, Powder Keg... Clive Owen's silky-smooth
chauffeur this time is in over his head when trying to drive a gut-shot photojournalist
(the great Stellan Skarsgård) out of a coup-ridden South American country. Bob
Richardson's grainy, Ektachrome photography sizzles with a nerve-jangling documentary
intensity, but it's Iñarritu's spiritual wrestling match that elevates the political
exposé into the realm of art. A boiled-down, eight-minute distillation of Amores
Perros' redemptive operatics, Powder Keg kicks you in the nuts before, in its
final moments, breaking your heart. They really did save the best for last."
Driver accompanies an acclaimed photojournalist from hostile territory to lands
friendly to Americans. This one manages to provide social commentary rather than the usual
action set pieces, and its elegiac tone moved me to tears. This is also the only one shot
with extremely grainy film stock, and the resulting visual look imparts a gritty,
third-world weariness on the final product. Gonzalez-Inarritu attacks the drug trade as
well as the rich of America whose demand for cocaine ravages South Americas social
order. Powder Keg also has a heartbreaker of an ending when The Driver discovers
what the photographer meant when he said that his mother taught him 'how to see'. Were it
not for the fact that it played on the Internet before appearing elsewhere, Im sure
that Powder Keg wouldve been nominated for some of the most prestigious of
film awards like the Oscars."
"Soldiers patrol fields and rural villages. Their mission: Find a photojournalist
who has snapped a picture certain to unite the world against their leader. Alejandro
González Iñárritu directs Clive Owen as the photographer's driver and sole hope of
getting him and his film beyond the strongly guarded border. This is the most violent
short film of the bunch. Gritty and raw, the action and filming method adds an enhanced
sense of realism. Like certain scenes in the film Traffic, there's almost a
documentary style look to this film. Excellent film."
"Unexpectedly gritty, serious and moving, in stark contrast to Star and Chosen.
Stellan Skarsgård plays a war photographer who's shot while taking a picture, and has to
try and escape over the border with the help of the Driver. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
(who should have a lot more accents in that name) directs in a realistic, hand-held style,
not even allowing the car to be much of a star; instead most of the ten minutes is taken
up with Owen and passenger talking. Has probably the best dialogue exchange in all of the
BMW films, starting with Skarsgård."
Jacobs: "You know what really gets me about being a war photographer?"
Jacobs: "I never have time to play with my kids."
Driver: "So how many have you got?"
The Hire DVD of 8 short films is available at BMWfilms.com. It is offered free (except for
shipping/tax charge. Powder Keg can also be viewed online though the DVD version
is 6 minutes longer.