DRIVEN movie poster | ©2019 Universal Pictures

DRIVEN movie poster | ©2019 Universal Pictures

Rating: R
Stars: Jason Sudeikis, Lee Pace, Judy Greer, Corey Stoll, Michael Cudlitz, Erin Moriarty, Isabel Arraiza
Writer: Colin Bateman
Director: Nick Hamm
Distributor: Universal
Release Date (theatrical and on demand): August 16, 2019

DRIVEN is a mixture of character study, thriller and black comedy. Screenwriter Colin Bateman and director Nick Hamm take facts that are part of the public record and use them to weave a tall but compelling tale about John DeLorean, mostly from the point of view of Jim Hoffman.

Car maker DeLorean, who passed away in 2005, would likely be pleased that he’s still primarily remembered for his signature gull-winged automobile (think BACK TO THE FUTURE). Unfortunately for his legacy, he’s also remembered for being accused by the U.S. government of trafficking in cocaine.

DRIVEN starts out looking like it’s going to be a courtroom drama, with Jim Hoffman (Jason Sudeikis) on the witness stand. This turns out to be a framing (pardon the expression) device. We flash back to 1977, when Hoffman is busted at a small airport by FBI Special Agent Benedict Tisa (Corey Stoll) for flying a plane full of cocaine from Bolivia to Florida. Jim’s wife Ellen (Judy Greer) and two young kids are also on the plane. They think Jim’s in the shipping business, and Tisa makes it possible for Jim to keep it that way.

Next thing we know, the Hoffman family is moving into an upscale California neighborhood. This is because Tisa has presented Jim with the choice of going to jail or being a paid FBI informant. Ellen just thinks that Jim’s business is doing better. Tisa thinks Jim is spending too much of his salary, especially because Jim is not the most adept of FBI informants. A mini-cassette recorder sends him into a panic.

Even so, things take a few turns when some neighbor kids show up to play with the Hoffman kids. The neighbor kids’ mom Cristina (Isabel Arraiza) comes over to fetch her offspring home, and it turns out her husband, the kids’ dad, is superstar car designer John DeLorean (Lee Pace).

John has just left Detroit behind in the quest to build his dream car. Jim is wowed by John’s wealth, achievements and drive. John is charmed by Jim’s appreciativeness, his relative down-to-Earth quality, and probably by the fact that he has nothing to do with the auto industry. A friendship of non-equals is born.

Meanwhile, Tisa continues to pressure Jim to entrap Morgan Hetrick (Michael Cudlitz), the volatile coke dealer whose product got confiscated in the bust.

This all swirls together in ways that are consistently intriguing, even though we may not be convinced this is how everything happened in reality. DRIVEN hinges largely on Jim trying to figure out how much of his outside persona (if any) reflects who he actually is, and whether that person has any solidity at all. Sudeikis gives us Jim as a small-time con artist who finds himself way out of his depth, relying on self-effacement and the appearance of affability to stay afloat. It’s a very effective performance.

Pace has charm, arrogance and intelligence as DeLorean. He convinces us this is a man who is so driven by his own vision that he can’t see ordinary warning signs. Greer makes Ellen the most rational character in the movie, fun to be around and persuasive in her motives. Stoll excels as the exasperated Tisa, and Cudlitz is properly menacing as Hetrick.

The broad strokes of what happens in DRIVEN are easy to find on Wikipedia, but filmmakers Hamm and Bateman find suspense and satisfaction in examining the why of it all. Their take on the story draws us in and pays off with small surprises all the way along, abetted by their excellent cast.

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