The DMC-12 is the epitome of potential unfulfilled. Commonly known as the DeLorean, the stainless steel car never reached the aspirations of its creator, its legacy instead cemented in film as a time machine. John DeLorean was a mover and a shaker, and his love of automobiles coalesced with a chance to a leap innovation instead led him to turn towards an unsavory choice in an effort to keep his dream alive.
Director: Nick Hamm
Release date: August 16, 2019
In 1982, DeLorean was arrested and charged with cocaine trafficking in a last ditch attempt to save his bleeding company at the encouragement of his new friend and FBI informant neighbor, Jim Hoffman. The intersection of this budding friendship is where Driven dives in. As a drug-smuggling pilot, Hoffman (Jason Sudeikis) passes over jail time to instead live life at the mercy of his Special Agent handler. Fate is a funny thing, as Hoffman and his family are relocated directly next door to DeLorean where the two quickly become friends.
As the former GM executive opens the door wider and wider to Hoffman, the goofball neighbor learns of the carmaker’s financial struggles and sees an opportunity to get out from under the FBI’s thumb. Discussing his prior life, Hoffman subtly hints at a quick way for DeLorean to solve his cash flow problem; a stopgap that would extend the life of his dream. For Hoffman, this has potential for a big bust that could grant him a retirement from snitching and sever the ties to his FBI overlords.
Driven feels campy at first, largely in part to Sudeikis’s performance as Hoffman. After his initial arrest, Hoffman is nervously cracking wise with Special Agent Benedict Tisa (Corey Stoll) as he anxiously contemplates his choices. For his gall in opting in as a smuggler, Hoffman quickly cedes any sense of authoritative opposition when faced with potential jail time. Sudeikis has a way of making Hoffman unthreatening and unimposing upon first introduction. Hoffman possesses some wits, and he truly cares for his wife and kids and their safety, but any shown sense of intelligence is often overshadowed by his imbecilic nature that Sudeikis flaunts to a near comedic effect.
His opposite, Lee Pace, brings DeLorean front and center. The movie is really about this man as told through the lens of Hoffman. This viewpoint hinders DeLorean’s story to some extent and any emotion aimed towards him doesn’t strike with full force. Pace plays the leader well; smooth talking and always in command of the room. In an effort to increase investors, DeLorean throws a party and reveals a rendering of his car. A booming voice spouting carefully crafted words with Spacey-like deftness, he finishes to grandiose applause before secluding himself in a room where he exhales the entirety of his nerves.
The on-screen chemistry between Sudeikis and Pace feels both forced and rushed and never really finds its flow. An affable goofball and a genius car designer, while representative of real-life, doesn’t come across as genuine when re-told on film. From the first time they meet, Hoffman’s eyes light in august, while DeLorean is more or less impious towards the new guy in the neighborhood before suddenly bonding over a a ping pong game. The pace inspires immediacy that forfeits naturality.
DeLorean’s struggle to get his car to market is well-documented, but the knowledge of his willingness to turn towards an alternative means of funding isn’t often talked about. With factories on the brink of shutting down and families relying on their paychecks, the internal battle to do right by them is shown in the film, even if it comes across slightly ingenuous. The ensuing sting operation led to an arrest that led to a trial which led to a not guilty verdict because entrapment is a tricky thing. While DeLorean got off on the charges, his career in the auto industry was all but demolished. As he walked out of the courthouse, a reporter asked him about his future in the car business, to wit he famously responded, “would you buy a used car from me?”
The story is intertwined with the aforementioned courtroom proceedings, which act as a buffer between the two timelines, and feels unnecessary. The time spent in the courtroom is only there for Hoffman to help narrate a story that isn’t overly complicated to begin with, and no one other than Hoffman takes the stand. Like the plot of the film, the trial is about DeLorean, but told through someone else. The fact that DeLorean never took the stand to testify in real life makes the courtroom scenes feel all the more indifferent. Are we supposed to root for Hoffman, who entrapped his friend? Are we supposed to root for DeLorean, who made a conscious choice to get involved in drug trade? Maybe there isn’t supposed to be someone to root for. Maybe, instead of some one, we root for the car that lives in cinema lore because of the choices its creator made.