The Hire – A Look at the Influential BMW Series

Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 1:18 am
By Shane Rivers

The Hire, a series of influential short films produced for the Internet by BMW, debuted in 2001 and took the world by storm. Featuring slick production values, recognizable stars, and big-name directors, The Hire revolutionized how products could be branded online. Over 100 million viewers thrilled to the exploits of The Driver (Clive Owen) in each of the eight web episodes, Time Magazine reviewed them alongside feature films, and BMW sales were boosted 12 percent within the first year. Even the comic book industry got in on the action, with Dark Horse producing four issues based on the further adventures of The Driver.

I’m sad to say that I didn’t hear about this series until a few weeks ago, but it’s a clear case of better late than never. The same could be said about my not-so-swift discoveries of Dramatic Chipmunk, Star Wars Kid and Numa Numa. Man, I’ve got to hang out on YouTube more often.

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Each episode of The Hire lasts around 10 minutes and follows a mysterious driver who transports passengers from one place to another (for the right price, and always in a BMW). It should come as no surprise that The Transporter–starring Jason Statham–was inspired by this series. It’s also interesting to note that Clive Owen was largely unknown in the United States at the time, so this series went a long way towards allowing him to play dour-yet-handsome leads in Hollywood.

The series was stopped in 2005 due to rising costs, and the episodes were pulled from the BMW website. Luckily, The Hire lives on through the Internet, and I’m hoping this article will allow readers to either rediscover the groundbreaking production or enjoy it for the first time.

I’ve listed all the episodes, along with information on the directors and stars. A rundown of the premise is also included, and I couldn’t resist throwing in a few thoughts of my own. If you know of any other impressive short film series that deserve a write-up (such as Dr. Horrible‘s Sing-Along Blog), send an email to onlygoodmovies[at]gmail[dot]com and let me know.

Season One of The Hire

Episode Title: Ambush
Director: John Frankenheimer
Starring: Clive Owen and Tomas Milian
BMW Featured: BMW 7 Series
Plot Synopsis: The Driver is carrying an elderly male passenger to an unknown destination. That’s when the bad guys show up, heavily armed, wearing ski-masks, and driving a black van. They direct The Driver to stop his vehicle, claiming the old man has stolen several million in diamonds. The passenger confesses that he swallowed the precious stones, and the assailants will surely slice him open to retrieve them. Will The Driver give them what they want or push the petal to the metal? I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but thank God he’s driving a BMW.
Review: Pretty standard action stuff in this episode, but one gets the idea that Clive Owen would’ve made a great substitute for Statham in The Transporter. A solid-yet-unspectacular start to the series, although it’s even more impressive when you consider that it was made in 2001, long before lavish short films and webisodes were popping up around cyberspace.
What We Learned About BMW: The car radio can be used to tune into transmissions from homicidal diamond thieves.

Episode Title: Chosen
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Clive Owen and an unknown Asian kid
BMW Featured: BMW 5 Series
Plot Synopsis: The Driver is hired to deliver an Asian holy child to an isolated house in the country. The boy gives him a small box as a present, but he’s urged not to open it until later. Pursued almost from the moment they meet, The Driver and the boy may not be safe even when they reach their destination. And what the heck is in that box?
Review: Kinda like The Golden Child, but this time with cars and Clive Owen. I kept expecting Charles Dance to show up and transform into a demon. Nice visual storytelling from Ang Lee, as ice falling off the side of the docking ship tells us all we need to know about where the boy has come from (the costumes also help). The classical music played over the car chase is a nice touch, indicating a calm emotional center in the middle of the automotive chaos. And here’s a handy tip: Monks do not wear cowboy boots.
What We Learned About BMW: The car has a great braking system, especially when you’re pinned in between pursuing vehicles or about to run off a pier. They also provide outstanding handling on slick surfaces and tight spaces, and the extra horsepower in the engine allows you to ram opponents and force them out of the way. BMWs are not bulletproof, however, so don’t get too cocky.

Episode Title: The Follow
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Starring: Clive Owen, Forest Whitaker, Mickey Rourke and Adriana Lima
BMW Featured: Z3 Roadster and the BMW Series 3
Plot Synopsis: When an actor (Rourke) begins to suspect that his wife is cheating on him, he gets his agent (Whitaker) to hire someone to follow her. While it’s not his normal gig, The Driver still takes the job and gives us all a tutorial on how to shadow someone without being seen. But as the story unfolds, a few surprising details come to light, and our hero faces a moral dilemma.
Review: This episode features acting over action, and the talented cast responds by weaving a compelling yarn. Whitaker is predictably strong as the nervous, dog-loving manager, and Rourke’s scene is intense but all too brief. While Adriana Lima doesn’t get any lines, a single shot of her beautiful face does tell the audience and The Driver volumes about the relationship with her husband. Owen gets to show off his noble side, and he wears it like a million-dollar suit.
What We Learned About BMW: If you want to follow beautiful women without being discovered, BMW is the car for you.

Episode Title: Star
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Clive Owen and Madonna
BMW Featured: BMW M5
Plot Synopsis: A spoiled celebrity (Madonna) opts not to take her usual limo ride. Instead, she gets into a white BMW containing The Driver and commands him to take her to the venue. What she doesn’t know, however, is that her long-suffering manager has arranged to teach her a little lesson.
Review: The Material Girl does a fine job of lampooning her reputation as a difficult diva, but it’s too bad this pairing would eventually lead to the dreaded “Madonna phase” for director Guy Ritchie. As he did in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Ritchie combines breakneck action with catchy pop tunes. While it’s just as effective at telling a story (and showing the strong suits of a BMW), Star has a much lighter tone than previous episodes.
What We Learned About BMW: The M5 is great for driving like a madman through the city and tossing a bitchy pop star to and fro. You can also fly through the air like the Duke boys and suffer no ill effects.

Episode Title: Powder Keg
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Clive Owen, Stellan Skarsgard, and Lois Smith
BMW Featured: BMW X5
Plot Synopsis: When a war photographer (Stellan Skarsgard) takes valuable pictures of a South American bloodbath, The Driver is recruited to deliver him safely across the border. As the two men dodge the military, the wounded and weary journalist talks about his regrets and the mother who got him interested in photography.
Review: Opens with frantic, out-of-focus shots that appropriately set the chaotic mood. Skarsgard is brilliant as the downcast journalist with a bullet lodged in his body. Just like war itself, the short is gritty and filled with heartache. The final scene between Owen and Lois Smith is especially touching, adding a dimension previously unseen in The Hire.
What We Learned About BMW: White BMW seats are not blood resistant.

Season Two of The Hire

Episode Title: Hostage
Director: John Woo
Starring: Clive Owen, Maury Chaykin, and Kathryn Morris
BMW Featured: BMW Z4
Plot Synopsis: For some odd reason, The Driver is recruited by the FBI to help resolve a hostage situation. As a disgruntled ex-employee (Chaykin) forces The Driver to burn the ransom money, his former boss and current hostage (Morris) slowly sinks to the bottom of the river in the trunk of a car. Can our hero save her in time?
Review: This episode opens with bullets dropping to the floor in slow motion. Yep, it’s a John Woo film. Excellent transitional shots, especially a spinning gun cylinder transforming into a BMW tire speeding down the highway. While Kathryn Morris gets a surprise bit of characterization at the very end, Maury Chaykin steals the show as a pitiful, yet homicidal, nut job.
What We Learned About BMW: The Z4 is perfect for eluding cops while driving backwards. It’s also a totally sweet-ass ride.

Episode Title: Ticker
Director: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Clive Owen and Don Cheadle (cameos by Ray Liotta, F. Murray Abraham, Robert Patrick, Clifton Powell, and Dennis Haysbert)
BMW Featured: BMW Z4
Plot Synopsis: A wounded diplomat (Cheadle) with a mysterious briefcase is picked up by the driver after his original convoy is ambushed and destroyed. The bullets begin to fly, the case gets penetrated, and a counter begins heading towards zero.
Review: A dynamite short from director Joe Carnahan, this episode features a white-knuckle helicopter pursuit with thousands of rounds being fired, the BMW leaking gas, and a wounded Cheadle clutching a damaged case that’s leaking some kind of fluid. Also includes some surprising cameos from major league talent. My personal favorite of the series.
What We Learned About BMW: Great for creating impromptu dust storms. Even when the gas meter hits empty, you’ll still be able to reach your destination (especially if Don Cheadle is traveling with you). Leaving the door ajar will result in a beeping sound, also reminding the viewer that anyone currently undergoing major surgery is going to make it.

Episode Title: Beat the Devil
Director: Tony Scott
Starring: Clive Owen, James Brown, Gary Oldman, Danny Trejo, and Marilyn Manson
BMW Featured: BMW Z4
Plot Synopsis: When he was young, singer James Brown sold his soul in exchange for legendary talent. Now way past his prime, The Godfather of Soul wants to renegotiate. Naturally, ‘ol Scratch is located in Las Vegas, and the city’s famous strip later acts as a makeshift racetrack with eternal consequences.
Review: James Brown is so unintelligible that his dialogue has to be subtitled. I guess that makes him The Godfather of Subtitles, as well. Oldman opens peeling an egg, which is a nice nod to Angel Heart. The British actor plays the Devil as a Bowie-inspired, wig-wearing, homosexual beast, and the quick cuts, odd colors and other effects evokes Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. The film’s high point features Danny Trejo and Gary Oldman racing against Clive Owen and James Brown. The final shot of the episode shows us a crack in The Driver’s stone-faced demeanor. What a perfect way to end this outstanding series.
What We Learned About BMW: If a BMW can defeat Danny Trejo and Gary Oldman, then it’s good enough for you.

(Amazon carries of number of products related to The Hire, and you can click on any of the links in this article to take a look. We do get a small commission for sending you there, but it doesn’t cost you anything extra.)