Driven review: John DeLorean biopic speeds in and out of court

Lee Pace plays the controversial playboy-industrialist as a watchful if slippery stoic with shady connections and stratospheric self-confidence.

Tim Hayes

Lee Pace as John DeLorean in Driven

Lee Pace as John DeLorean in Driven

Anyone who was situated geographically closer to the real-life mountain of unsold DeLorean cars that piled up in Northern Ireland at taxpayers’ expense during 1982 than the fantasy California where Marty McFly drove one into the history books shortly afterwards in Back to the Future could find that sympathy for John DeLorean does not come automatically.

The charismatic and flinty American playboy-industrialist depicted by Driven in the form of Lee Pace would be unlikely to care. A burst of attention currently being paid to DeLorean by this film and by Framing John DeLorean – a semi-dramatised documentary with Alec Baldwin as the beleaguered executive – might show that his rise and fall fits into a current cultural wish, the one in which rich capitalists with shady connections and stratospheric self-belief are at some point dragged into court rather than sailing serenely on. Except, of course, that DeLorean consistently walked out of court unimpeded, claiming to be more sinned against by the various small men he chose to include in his orbit than sinning.

Driven focuses on DeLorean’s period of infamy, from the setting up of a car company bearing his name to the subsequent desperate need for money to keep it afloat, which put him in the crosshairs of the FBI. However, the film’s central protagonist is one of those small men, Jim Hoffman (Jason Sudeikis), a low-level crook living next door to DeLorean while working as an FBI informant. Since Sudeikis is by nature a droll straight man, his Hoffman constantly trips over the gap between good intentions and inevitable failure, while the film leaves open the question of whether his relationship with DeLorean is basically that of one hustler recognising another.

Director Nick Hamm and writer Colin Bateman (both from Northern Ireland) can’t stretch to any scenes of factories, industrial production or the workers on whom DeLorean’s world is built – or indeed any scenes of actual California, with filming taking place in Puerto Rico, where a lush digital colour saturation gives everything a sheen of unreality. But between Hoffmann and Hetrick (Michael Cudlitz), the crass drug dealer he is monitoring for the FBI, the world of cash-rich Carter-era self-indulgence we see on either side of the law deserves all the Reagan recession heading its way.

That recession helped sink DeLorean, though the film remains ambiguous about the exact mix of personality flaws and criminal inclinations that he may have brought to the table himself. In other circumstances this could have been a failing, but here it gives Pace a blank canvas on which to deploy more screen presence than everyone else combined, often just by directing a deep gaze in the general direction of the camera. Acting a decade older than his real age and under DeLorean’s characteristic hair (though the characteristic eyebrows came with the actor), he makes DeLorean a watchful stoic poised to duck any incoming blow. His voice rumbles up through the local strata, equal parts menace and seductive smoulder. Swathed in finest polyester, this DeLorean seems as American and unchained as his Pontiac GTO, famously designed to seem as sleek as a fish, but at the same time the kind of capitalist pantaloon whose DMC DeLorean looks like a prop for a mid-1980s science-fiction film and then doesn’t start.

 

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