Review: Driven

DIR: Nick Hamm • WRI: Colin Bateman DOP: Karl Walter Lindenlaub • ED: Brett M. Reed • DES: Fernando Carrion • PRO: René Besson, Brad Feinstein, Walter Josten, Luillo Ruiz • MUS: Geronimo Mercado • CAST:  Jason Sudeikis, Lee Pace, Judy Greer, Corey Stoll, Isabel Arraiza, Michael Cudlitz

Complete with its own chaotic backstory (filming in Puerto Rico being was disrupted and delayed by Hurricane Maria), this drama/comedy version of the story behind the sportscar visionary John DeLorean – and the man who brought him down – is now available to watch.

Driven begins with huckster and drug-smuggling pilot Jim Hoffman (Sudeikis) and his family being arrested. Bang to rights, Hoffman later finds himself walking his way into court as the star witness for FBI agent Benedict Tisa (Stoll) in a truly sensational case.

Switching from that court case to moments back in time, we see how Hoffman became an informer for agent Tisa and was told to target Morgan Hetrick (Michael Cudlitz), the brash, mustached drug smuggler that Hoffman swears set him up.

A few years before, Jim and Ellen (Greer) had met their new neighbors, John and Cristina DeLorean (Pace and Arraiza). DeLorean was the charismatic car designer behind the GTO muscle car, and Cristina, his charming, model wife. 

DeLorean had just launched his own, new car – the DMC-12 – and the stainless steel, gull-wing design was a smash. Celebrities lined up to invest, and Jim was drawn into DeLorean’s world as a kind of uneasy confidante/gopher. Ellen is less than convinced however; she thinks the smooth DeLorean is a fraud. 

Sure enough, DeLorean’s new car company starts to fall apart at the seams. Jim realizes it’s happening, but still wants to be part of the hip gang that’s all parties and champagne. Then DeLorean, in need of big cash quick, asks Hoffman for some real help – and it involves Morgan and his white marching powder.

Or does it? As Hoffman is grilled in court while DeLorean stares at him from the defendant’s table, a vital question hangs in the air. Did a desperate DeLorean suggest the scam to save the company and the jobs of the 2000 workers at the Belfast factory, or was it the eager-to-please Hoffman trying to finally be useful to his next-door hero? 

The story of DeLorean and his famous – but short-lived car – has been well-documented elsewhere, and doubtless much artistic license has been taken with what happened in this screenplay.

Billed as a drama/thriller, Driven also has many comic moments – probably due in part to the participation of former “SNL” favorite Sudeikis, who is perhaps rather miscast as the lead here. 

Hoffman was doubtless necessarily a likeable conman, but with Sudeikis’ perpetual wide eyes and twinkly smirks – and a ’70s mustache Hoffman actually didn’t have – it never seems like he’s more than a bit of a hapless jester.

Sudeikis certainly comes a poor second to the excellent Greer in terms of the dramatic moments, and then there’s Pace. With his almost-hypnotic voice and ice cool demeanor, you can see how people might follow him through the flames.

There aren’t really any big stakes for protagonist Hoffman either.  We know what DeLorean has at stake of course, but aside from Tisa’s constant threats of prison and no revenge from the spitting-mad Morgan, what does Hoffman really lose? Even the spitfire Ellen comes back after leaving him for a moment after she learns he’s a lying, long-term informer.

The comic tone sits rather uneasily with this limited drama, and you wonder if going more blackly comic might have made this more engaging. As it is, this is mildly entertaining but largely forgettable, with the emotional moments that Jim and John share seeming forced rather than genuine friendship. 

Who knows if that’s what they had, as Hoffman disappeared into Witness Protection after the trial and DeLorean lived until 2005, his car living on long after people forgot he was a real person (and that the car wasn’t just a time machine created for Back to the Future).

Ironically – and perhaps perfectly – John DeLorean was in fact close to basing his factory in Puerto Rico, not Belfast, before he pulled out of the deal at the last minute. Guess which place offered more cash subsidies?   

Either way, it’s certainly worth pointing out that this movie comes from Northern Irish talent. Director Nick Hamm was born in Belfast, and screenwriter Colin Bateman is from Bangor in County Down, some seven miles away. 

Driven also had a prime spot closing last year’s Venice Film Festival, but seemed to be clinging on to the coat-tails of the superior Alec Baldwin-starring Framing John DeLorean, which came out earlier this year.

It’s a pity that the extraordinary DeLorean story hasn’t made a really effective transition to the silver screen yet, though the rumored George Clooney project might well blow it all out of the water. 

DeLorean would certainly have appreciated being played by a genuine star. 

 James Bartlett

148′ 
R

Driven is available on Amazon Prime 1st November 2019.

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