Wednesday, March 18, 2015

In short: Big Driver (2014)

Tess Thorne (Maria Bello) is a mid-list writer of cozy mysteries about a crime-solving knitting circle. When she takes a shortcut through a lonely. wooded area after a public appearance, she drives right into the trap of a big truck-driving man (Will Harris) who first repeatedly rapes her and then drops her off in a drainage pipe next to the corpse of one of his earlier victims to die.

Somehow, Tessa manages to survive and to escape but instead of going to the police, she decides to take care of her tormentor herself. Tessa, you see, hasn’t been in the firmest state of mental health even before her ordeal, writing what the voices in her head (who seem to have horrible taste in prose) tell her to, with some visual hallucinations added to the mix. Now, she’s counselled by Doreen (Olympia Dukakis) – one of her imaginary knitting circle members – and the voice of her GPS, Tom, and she’s out for vengeance.

Turns out the Lifestyle Channel, home of many a TV movie I’m not very interested in (which is based on my specific tastes, not necessarily on the movies’ quality), or at least Big Driver’s director Mikael Salomon, does know quite perfectly how to make not just a neat little rape revenge movie but one that is actually individual enough to be interesting. It is based on a Stephen King story, and you can clearly see some of King’s typical concerns on screen: the life of the writer, the troubles with imagination, the problematic family relations between the film’s bad guys, and an idea of mental illness that might not be particularly polite but grasps the absurdity that is part and parcel of any psychological disorder excellently.

The film doesn’t really have the space to explore these elements very deeply but at the very least, they are there to spice up the film’s revenge proceedings, emphasising how Tessa’s acts are the consequences of a combination of what Lester did to her and the baggage she already brought with her, using neither fact to indict or to absolve her. Of course, giving what nasty pieces of shit Tessa’s enemies are, the audience’s sympathies still stay with her. The film’s just suggesting a bit more of the messiness of actual human psychology than is typical of this sub-genre, and it is all the more effective and human for it.

Tessa’s particular reaction to her trauma also gives Maria Bello the opportunity to really let loose with her performance. What she ends up with is a combination of genre short-hand, actual human frailty, and a perfect embodiment of the plain weirdness of mental illness. This approach perhaps does not make Tess a full character in the method acting way but one offering more than a more straightforward realistic portrayal (something I’m sure Bello could have achieved just as well if she had but wanted) could have been.

It is this willingness to be weird and truthful rather than naturalistic that particularly endears Big Driver to me, something that adds personality to what could have easily ended up as being just the lite version of a rape revenge movie.

No comments: