Movie Review (Sundance 2023): ‘The Accidental Getaway Driver’ is a Repetitive Slow Burn
Director: Sing J. Lee
Writers: Sing J. Lee, Christopher Chen
Stars: Hiep Tran Nghia, Dustin Nguyen, Dali Benssalah
Synopsis: During a routine pickup, an elderly Vietnamese cab driver is taken hostage at gunpoint by three recently escaped Orange County convicts.
This year, my picks for the online coverage of the Sundance Film Festival could have been better. Unfortunately, throughout the week, I missed out on some films highly praised by most viewers. In addition to that, I couldn’t leave the middle ground when it came to the more divisive flicks, which left The Accidental Getaway Driver – my last screening – with the “task” of impressing me, something no other movie was able to do until now. Filmmaker Sing J. Lee provided quite an interesting premise, and despite not saving a personally underwhelming week, it left me more than satisfied.
The Accidental Getaway Driver starts as a crime flick based on a true story about a hostage situation involving a taxi driver, Long Ma (Hiep Tran Nghia), and three criminals: Tay (Dustin Nguyen), Aden (Dali Benssalah), and Eddie (Phi Vu). The first act of the film focuses on setting everything up and introducing the characters, quickly getting to the main action point. Long Ma believes he’s just going to help someone in need of a drive outside working hours until he realizes something more is going on. The beginning of the movie is efficient in getting the viewers’ attention for a slow-burn that might surprise some people.
Long Ma and Tay are undoubtedly the heart and soul of a compelling father-son drama that unravels throughout the second and third acts. Two people in different stages of life who have made mistakes in the past, dealing with the lonely consequences of such regrets. Sing J. Lee explores how profound connections to other people are a human necessity while also transmitting a message that good people can do bad things and vice-versa. People shouldn’t be defined by their mistakes but instead by how they deal with them. The Accidental Getaway Driver has many moments of pure honesty and warmth.
The final act delivers an emotionally bittersweet, compassionate ending that could’ve been much more impactful if it wasn’t for the extremely long, tiresome mid-section. The Accidental Getaway Driver unnecessarily overstays its welcome not only by taking too long to get its points across but by repeating those same messages through similar dialogue in uneventful scenes. That said, a character-driven film needs powerful performances, which Hiep Tran Nghia and Dustin Nguyen deliver. Their chemistry is on-point, elevating the whole movie with each captivating interaction.
It’s pretty rare to see critics giving their readers a sense of their mood and expectations going into a film. The truth is that life circumstances might deeply affect one’s enjoyment of a movie. Watching The Accidental Getaway Driver as the 14th flick in a week of balancing a day job with film watching/reviewing isn’t exactly the best possible condition in which I could have watched Sing J. Lee’s brilliantly directed movie. A moody slow-burn – beautiful aesthetics – at this stage of the festival would hardly leave my jaw on the floor, so I wanted to end this review by being honest and stating that The Accidental Getaway Driver probably deserves more than what I’m giving it.
I'm a Portuguese critic based in Sweden with a tremendous passion for cinema, television, and the art of filmmaking. I try to offer an unbiased perspective from someone who has stopped watching trailers since 2017. As years went by, I was able to develop my voice within the community and cover major festivals. Co-host of a weekly film podcast, R&M: A Conversation on Cinema. Outlets: Firstshowing, InSession Film, That Shelf, Filmhounds Magazine, Echo Boomer (PT), Magazine.HD (PT). Proud member of associations such as GFCA (Global Film Critics Association), IFSC (International Film Society Critics), and OFTA (Online Film & Television Association). You can find me across social media through @msbreviews. Portfolio: https://linktr.ee/msbreviews