R | 1h 48min | Biography, Drama, Thriller | 16 August 2019 (USA)
Once the ingenious darling of the automotive industry, John DeLorean launched his own commercial auto company, the DeLorean Motor Company (DMC), back in the 1970s. But DMC’s first commercial vehicle, the DeLorean, didn’t reach the market until the ’80s, and by then, the sagging car market meant the demise of his would-be crowning achievement, the gull-winged DeLorean sports car (as seen in “Back to the Future”).
All of these rather dry, historical facts can be looked up with a casual internet search, but director Nick Hamm (“The Journey”) and fellow filmmaker Colin Bateman, who wrote the screenplay, managed to churn an interesting drama out of the meteoric rise and fall of the man. The filmmakers’ depiction of how and why everything happened is fascinating from a purely narrative perspective and is only aided by a stellar cast.
Meet the Con Man
“Driven” actually starts out like a “Perry Mason” episode. Small-time con man Jim Hoffman (Jason Sudeikis, “Horrible Bosses,” “Downsizing”) is on a witness stand. As he gives some juicy testimony, things flash back to the late ’70s when he is trying to smuggle some drugs, via a small plane, into an airport. FBI Special Agent Benedict Tisa (Corey Stoll, “Midnight in Paris,” “Ant-Man”) is waiting for him, and Jim’s criminal plans are thwarted.
Jim’s wife, Ellen (Judy Greer, “The Village”), and their two young kids assumed he was in the import-export business. Well, he was, just not in a legit way. Fortunately for him, Special Agent Tisa makes it possible to keep Jim’s criminal life a secret by turning him into a paid FBI informant.
Not long after, Jim and his wife move into a luxury Californian neighborhood—thanks to the feds—and Ellen merely thinks that his business is doing well. Jim’s hardly off the hook. In fact, the FBI wants him to gather evidence on his former employer, who is criminally connected, or they’ll give him a one-way ticket to federal prison.
One day, a neighbor’s kids visit in order to play with the Hoffmans’ kids. The mother of the neighbor’s kids is Cristina DeLorean (Isabel Arraiza), wife of revered entrepreneur and inventor John DeLorean (Lee Pace, “Guardians of the Galaxy”).
Jim and John express a neighborly courtesy toward each other at first, but eventually they become good friends. Jim finds John’s drive, intelligence, and wealth impressive, while John admires Jim’s seemingly folksy unpretentiousness. Both men are pursuing their own slice of the American dream: Jim wants a simpler, crime-free life with his family, while John is looking at achieving success with his upstart car company.
Unfortunately, when the DMC begins to go under, John isn’t sure how his company will stay afloat. When Jim finds out about his new friend’s dilemma, he offers a way out: Dealing drugs can fix his financial woes. John, desperate for help, accepts the offer.
Meanwhile, Special Agent Tisa is orchestrating things from behind the scenes as he pressures Jim to help set up John for the drugs, but also ultimately bust Jim’s drug-handler, Morgan Hetrick (Michael Cudlitz).
A Successful Biopic
As with other fictional accounts of factually based, historical events, the success of “Driven” is largely dependent on whether or not audiences find it intriguing enough to suspend their sense of disbelief. Director Hamm oscillates between Jim and John with deftness as each of them peels back the layers of the other’s life.
Pace’s embodiment of DeLorean is exceptionally nuanced and conveys that the man was not only entranced by his own intelligence, but also charming when he needed to be. Meanwhile, Sudeikis portrays Jim as a lower-tier hoodlum who has his own dilemma: Does he really have to betray his friend, or will he figure out another way to get out of his predicament? Is his self-deprecating persona genuine, or is there some sort of ulterior motive behind it?
Greer, as Ellen, largely plays it straight as Jim’s dutiful and affectionate wife. Cudlitz does a great job of bringing a good level of both intimidation and threat to drug lord Hetrick, and Stoll plays his potential foil as an intrepid and determined G-man, Tisa.
In all, the actors’ performances, along with the gritty writing and direction, are exceptional and made me want to learn more about the actual events, as well as the tragic downfall of DeLorean’s car company.
“Driven” is an excellent piece of fact-based, biopic storytelling that shows how drive and passion can quickly dissolve into regret and despair under the wrong circumstances. In a way, it’s a cautionary tale of betrayal and self-destruction that stays with you long after you leave the theater.
Director: Nick Hamm
Starring: Lee Pace, Jason Sudeikis, Judy Greer
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 16
Rated: 3 1/2 stars out of 5