USA, 14 min.

director.gif (905 bytes)Alejandro González Iñárritu


Clive Owen - The Driver
Stellan Skarsgård - Harvey Jacobs
Lois Smith - Mother


Robert Richardson


July 16, 2001


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It is January 13, 2001. Time photo-journalist Harvey Jacobs is wounded  in a coup-ridden unnamed South American country. In a desperate effort, the United Nations sends a vehicle to get him out. Soldiers patrol the fields and rural villages. It is up to the Driver to get Jacobs and his film past the strongly guarded border to safety.


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 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 action."

"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 drivetrain.'"

"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 performance."

"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."

powderkeg2s.jpg (23469 bytes)"The 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 America’s 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, I’m sure that Powder Keg would’ve 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."

Best dialogue:

Jacobs:  "You know what really gets me about being a war photographer?"

Driver: "What?"

Jacobs: "I never have time to play with my kids."

Driver: "So how many have you got?"

Jacobs: "None."

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