Incredible true stories don’t always promise incredible film results. Part of the problem is finding a heart of the subject’s life that suits the process of storytelling. Something that happens over the course of a lifetime might not lend itself to a two hour structure.
It’s a challenge facing Driven’s writer Colin Bateman and director Nick Hamm, the pair who have taken on the task of detailing the true events that befell John DeLorean (Lee Pace), the auto exec who took a successful career and flushed it completely down the toilet.
He rose to the top at General Motors by making bold decisions, before going off on his own to produce what he thought would be a unique piece of car design, one that he would slap his own name on so it could live on for generations. He wanted to make a timeless machine out of a DeLorean.
Given that we’re still talking about him, that his car eventually became iconic, DeLorean was successful. But it didn’t go quite as he intended.
To tell the story, Bateman and Hamm elected to follow a character on the periphery of DeLorean’s downfall (further out than perhaps was really the case)…
It’s the early 80s and Jim Hoffman (Jason Sudeikis) is a pilot, ferrying cocaine from South America at the height of the ‘War on Drugs’. He’s not very good at it, and soon finds himself at the behest of the FBI. And when they relocate him to a new Californian home, Jim discovers he has a neighbour who really knows his cars.
What follows is an almost farcical tale of friendship, mistrust, ego, stupidity and desperation. It makes for a compelling story, and so utterly stupid it is, it almost HAS to be a comedy. But it’s not out-and-out laughter. It’s a comedy drama that does a decent job of making you care about the characters, as reprehensible as they can be.
Lee Pace’s turn as DeLorean is pretty much worth the admission alone. DeLorean is a man who believes he’s smart enough to accomplish anything he puts his mind to and Pace embodies the laconic arrogance so pitch-perfectly that it’s a lot of fun checking out the real thing on YouTube as soon as it’s over.
Quite who Jim Hoffman really was remains a mystery, which allows Sudeikis plenty of wiggle room in his portrayal. He plays the hapless informant as an idiot with just enough nous to survive very sticky situations, particularly when his FBI handler (Corey Stoll) gets on his case.
Where Driven does come a little unstuck is in tone. Mixing comedy with crime thriller is a cocktail of tones that make for a slightly unsatisfying feel. Sudeikis, in particular, is playing it for laughs enough to reduce the stakes, and given that almost nobody in the movie is worthy of your sympathy, it’s almost impossible to root for anybody.
The mixed up timelines is also a little jarring. A smart device in theory, making it tricky to know who is screwing who and when until the very end, but it comes at the cost of pacing, and as a cartoon character once said, we should start our stories where they begin, not start them where they get interesting.
Still, like the similarly themed American Made, this is a crazy enough true story, written well enough to warrant attention, even if it doesn’t quite deliver the emotional impact that perhaps the story promises.