Driven has a special hook to pull in audiences; an inbuilt notoriety that all the marketing and PR in the World couldn’t hope to reach. DeLorean: a name synonymous with 80s nostalgia and catastrophic failure alike. Introduced as something of a joke in Back to the Future in the shape of the time machine, by the time the movie ended it had flown off into the sky and assured iconic status forever. The car’s designer hoped it would become a household name for other reasons. This semi-biopic examines where it all went wrong but, like its subject, looks ever so sleek but falls apart once it gets out of the garage.
In the late 70s Jim Hoffman (Jason Sudeikis) is a pilot who evades a charge for drug-running by informing against a former associate to the FBI. Moved into an opulent California neighbourhood with his family he meets John DeLorean (Lee Pace), ace car designer who is attempting to launch his own dream gull-wing sports car. When his venture is on the verge of collapse, the businessman turns to Hoffman to set up a cocaine deal to raise the necessary capital to keep his vision alive. With the assistance of the FBI, Hoffman turns the deal into a sting operation.
Driven is a familiar tale of the souring of the American dream. With a story about a rich businessman who falls spectacularly foul of the law after he’s consumed by his obsession, it feels like a companion piece to Bennett Miller‘s Foxcatcher set among the sun-kissed corruption of Boogie Nights. What it lacks is any sense of complexity in the characters, or any point of connection for the audience that would either Hoffman or DeLorean to prevail. This is especially disappointing given the writer is Colin Bateman, creator Murphy’s Law and a specialist in murky anti-heroes. You can see how his interest was piqued in the story, given DeLorean set up his factory in Bateman’s native Belfast, but his best tales have always been those set on home soil.
Every actor stalls in first gear, hobbled by a script that leaves no room for development or any kind of an arc. Sudeikis as Hoffman is just a twitch and a smirk in human form; initially amusing, but even though only a witness in the show trial that bookends the film, you half expect the jury to turn up with their own noose. Judy Greer, a gifted comic actress, is given nothing remotely interesting to do as his wife apart from an endless cycle of exasperation and forgiveness. Corey Stoll‘s FBI handler is all bluster and homophobia, while Lee Pace flounders badly in what should be the film’s cautionary centre. It’s difficult to believe the preening fool depicted managed to work his way to riches at all.
There’s a great film to be made of this rather insane tale, but Driven is categorically not it. Too much is made of the veneer of the high life, the parties, and the disgusting wealth that masks the rot at the lives of all the protagonists. It looks great for sure, if a little too similar to other films with these trappings (and with none of the grimy authenticity of the likes of Boogie Nights), but this surface hides the fact that the film’s substance is not only just skin deep, but there’s nothing beneath the skin at all. It’s an empty, vacuous film about empty, vacuous people.