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Big Driver (2014)
DVD Released: 1/27/2015
All Ratings out of
Extras: No Extras
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/21/2015
If you've read more than two things written by Stephen King, then you know that Stephen King has a difficult time not being Stephen King. He writes in a very specific voice, and even when he strays away from the horror stories which made him famous, you can still spot his unique style of writing. This carries over into movie adaptations of his novels and short stories. Even if you've never read the tale which is being presented on-screen, if you are familiar with King's work, you'll immediately recognize his use of language (assuming that the screenwriter was smart enough to simply carry over King's words). The made-for-TV movie Big Driver definitely falls into this category. While the subject matter isn't his usual fare, the words are all King.
Maria Bello stars in Big Driver, as Tess Thorne, a mystery writer who has made a cozy living from her series of books which concern a group of older women who solve crimes. Tess is invited to speak at a book club in Massachusetts, and she makes the long drive there (with the aid of her GPS, which she has named "Tom") and is welcomed by librarian Ramona Norville (Ann Dowd). Once she is done with her talk, Ramona suggests a shortcut which will cut down on Tess' driving time. Once on this new route, Tess runs over a board in the road, and the nails flatten her tire. Luckily, Lester (Will Harris), comes by a few minutes later and offers his assistance. Tess is thrilled to have met such a good Samaritan, but things quickly go awry as Lester assaults and rapes Tess, leaving her for dead. Upon waking, Tess is able to walk to the next town and call for a ride. She decides to not call the police, for she fears the negative publicity and the possible accusations that she was "asking for it". Instead, she puts her skills as a mystery novelist to use and begins to piece together the clues from the attack. Once she has the information which she needs, Tess decides that it's payback time.
OK, I'm going to give those Stephen King fans in the audience a moment to react to the shock that King is writing about a writer. How surprising! That's never happened before! Yes, we are treading in very familiar waters here, as we are presented with a protagonist who is a writer, has a vivid imagination, and who talks to themselves. King changes it up a bit by having it be a female, and instead of running into the supernatural, such as with the writers found in The Shining, The Dark Half, or Bag of Bones, Tess runs into a threat which is all too human. King has written about the evils which people do to one another before, and Big Driver gets very intimate with this. (More on this in a moment.) Along with the writer angle, we are definitely in King country here. I have not read he novella on which this movie is based, but Screenwriter Richard Christian Matheson (who is a talented writer in his own right) has clearly imported dialogue and mannerisms directly from it. Some of the terms, especially "happy crappy" are clearly King, and the way in which Tess interacts with her GPS and Doreen (Olympia Dukakis), one of the fictional characters from her books, shows how King loves to have imaginary figures in his stories.
It's not surprising that Big Driver wasn't promoted as a Stephen King vehicle as, again, it doesn't feature his trademark supernatural trappings, and I can only assume that the powers that be didn't want to mislead the viewing public. One you get past Tess' quirky qualities, this is a fairly standard rape-revenge storyline, not unlike Ms. 45. Tess is just a "normal" person who suffers an horrendous crime and instead of going through the proper channels, decides to take justice into her own hands. The Tess from the beginning of the movie, living in her townhouse and enjoying her flip-flops, is much different from the bruised, gun-toting Tess which we see in the final act. The way in which Tess tracks down her assailant and his accomplices is fairly interesting as well.
The thing to keep in mind about Big Driver is that it premiered on the LifeTime network. Yes, LifeTime, "Television for Women". Why is it that every time I watch something on LifeTime (which isn't often), I say, "This was on LifeTime?!" They certainly love to show women being abused on that channel. The rape in Big Driver isn't necessarily graphic, as this is a made-for-cable movie, in the sense that there is no nudity, but it goes on for quite some time and we do see Tess being punched repeatedly. (It went on for so long that my wife, who typically isn't that sensitive, ask that I fast-forward.) I suppose that the crime had to be portrayed so that the punishment would seem fitting, but I was surprised by this scene. All in all, Big Driver is above average for a TV movie. The plot is simple, but the dialogue works and Bello gives a knockout performance. If you are a King fan and missed this when it was on LifeTime, be sure to check it out.
Big Driver made me want a GPS which can hold conversations on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright, even during the third act when things get darker. The level of detail is acceptable, but some shots look flat. This just barely rivals Digital HD broadcast quality. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The surround effects are mild, but they work well during the action sequences, most notably the rape. The stereo effects show good separation and there are nice moments where the sound moves side-to-side.
The Big Driver DVD contains no special features.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long