If you're like me, the title "Driven" along with a dark DVD cover showing a pair of panicked eyeballs in the rear view mirror, saying "Welcome to the mean streets of L.A. ...it's a killer"--not to mention memories of the cheesy 2001 Sylvester Stallone flick of the same name--conjures up expectations you normally reserve for bad action flicks starring one of the "other Baldwin brothers".
Well I'm here to tell you that you can flush those expectations out of your head because this film is nothing like that. It's NOT an action flick, NOT a thriller, NOT a fast paced crime drama of any sort. It's just a story about ordinary Los Angeles cab drivers. But oddly, this seemingly mundane story got my heart pumping harder than any action flick I've seen in ages.
What did it? Tremendous acting, particularly an explosive performance by Tony Todd (perhaps best known as "Candyman" 1992 but also memorable as the chilling gangster Grange in "The Crow" 1994) launch this already brilliant script into Oscar territory. If you enjoy watching complex, slightly sinister characters in powerful scenes like, for example F. Murray Abraham in "Amadeus", Tom Beringer in "Platoon" (which Tony Todd was also in) or Natalie Portman's chilling flipout(s) in "Black Swan", then fasten your seatbelt because this cabbie flick has it all.
Again I have to stress that this is not an action flick. The story takes place over the course of a week at a cab company, and in that week we see the world through the eyes of cab drivers who see it all from slick dressed suits to knife wielding crackheads, from hot mysterious women to senile old ladies. The story remains anchored in reality (in other words, no billion-dollar bank heists or international espionage), and that is where it draws the power to affect us on a much deeper, emotional level than any action flick. Everything that happens in this movie could (and probably does) happen every day. And as you sit in the comfort of your home theater, you're reminded that there's a crazy world out there full of good and bad, triumph and tragedy, hope and hopelessness, comedy and catastrophe, and very few people see it all happen the way cabbies do. Beyond that, we get the mesmerizing theme of moral conflict: are they truly just observers, or are they obligated to make a difference in the world?
For that reason I'm a sucker for cab driver stories like this: the perfect allegory for the silent observer of everything that's right & wrong with the human race. From the great 80s sitcom "Taxi" to the art house flick "Night on Earth" to the hilarious Korean horror "Terror Taxi" (about a bunch of dead cab drivers who occasionally cause mischief and/or mayhem with the world of the living), I love em all. But I have to say "Driven" is on a level by itself. And like I said, that's largely due to the well-fleshed characters whom we can all associate with. Within themselves, they fight for a balance of good and evil just as they witness it in the world around them.
A great script with tense presentation and mysterious figures (Chad Lowe's character) round out a great movie experience. It has a gritty, slightly paranoid style with witty, fast paced banter similar to other great late-90s films "Suicide Kings", "Pulp Fiction" and maybe even the classic "Goodfellas".
Looking at the film résumé of writer/director Michael Shoob, I'm baffled. With only 1 prior credit, a not-well-received horror flick "Parasite" in 1982, he came back after nearly 15 years with this brilliant work "Driven" and has since disappeared again. I sincerely hope he resurfaces with another gem in the near future. It's been more than 15 years.
If you like obscure flicks with very real characters and interesting themes about humanity, don't miss "Driven". Also look for a great flick called "Special" with Michael Rapaport playing the role of a lowly meter maid who decides to become a superhero, and of course you gotta see the aforementioned "Suicide Kings" about a bunch of preppy college boys who decide to kidnap a mafia boss played by Christopher Walken. All of these stories are about ordinary schmoes but with a powerful punch.
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