From left to right, Dustin Nguyen, Phi Vu, Dali Benssalah and Hiep Tran Nghia star in "The Accidental Getaway Driver." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Based on a true story, The Accidental Getaway Driver, which premiered Monday at the Sundance Film Festival, is an emotional, suspenseful thriller. The film sticks to a more realistic depiction of crime, but no less tense than more sensational Hollywood counterparts.
Long Ma (Hiep Tran Nghia) reluctantly agrees to take a night shift driving his cab in Orange County, Calif. He soon discovers that his three passengers have escaped from prison, and will hold him until they are in the clear.
At first, Tay (Dustin Nguyen), Eddie (Phi Vu) and Aden (Dali Benssalah) just keep Long around because the police are looking for a group of three. A fourth gives them cover.
Long tries asking bystanders for help, but he doesn't speak English. The jail breakers intervene before Long can communicate he's in trouble.
The threat persists over the course of several days and nights. Aden makes it clear that he will kill Long once this is over.
The three men are vulnerable, having been traumatized by the experience of their crime and prison time. The situation stresses them further.
The longer they're on the run, the jumpier each escapee gets. Eddie overreacts to Long's most innocuous behavior, like getting out of bed. The three men begin to question each other too.
Long gets to know each of the convicts but never forgets that he's a hostage. He begs them to let him go, but they can't.
Most of the English dialogue between Tay, Eddie and Aden is for the audience's benefit. Long can't understand them unless Tay translates into Vietnamese for him.
Long is smart to try to humanize himself to make him less expendable. Yet, after a certain point in the ordeal, the guys practically sentence Long to death by telling him too much.
Along the way, the film reveals more about Long, too. In addition to telling his captors some stories, Long flashes back to incidents with his estranged family.
The Accidental Getaway Driver succeeds at making all four characters sympathetic, even the scariest ones. The situation is so fraught with peril, a viewer spends the movie hoping Long finds a way out no matter how much they come to understand the criminals.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.