Rating: TV-14 (USA)
Director: Mikael Salomon
Starring: Maria Bello, Ann Dowd, Will Harris, Joan Jett, Olympia Dukakis
Stephen King has always had a revolting habit of using words to play on our fears. However, his works not only make us wonder what goes bump in the night but also point to the ills of our society and encourage us to examine them in very uncomfortable ways. King’s novella Big Driver and its made-for-TV movie adaptation are once again pointing that unflinching finger at society and how it deals, or rather does not deal, with assault on women. This story first appeared in the Full Dark, No Stars collection and recently aired in the US on the Lifetime network.
Aside from examining the society’s ills, King is noted for his ability to place ordinary people in extraordinary situations and Big Driver is no exception. The plot follows author Tess who, on her way back home following a writers’ event, accepts a lift from a man who stops to assist her when her car breaks down. It turns out Tess’s saviour is a serial killer who brutally assaults her. The aftermath is our heroine’s struggle with how her friends, family and society will perceive this attack. Did she ask for it? What did she do to bring it on? Why was she on that road? All these and many more questions are going around in her head examining what would have caused or allowed such an attack. Fearing that no one will ever believe what happened to her, Tess decides that revenge is going to be her course of action. Tess is no special forces or survival programme graduate. She is just an ordinary woman who has chosen a path to follow.
One of the movie’s high points is that the revenge and chase sequence of the movie is not overly protracted. I really enjoyed, and yes I may be in the minority here, Rob Zombie’s adaptation of Halloween right up to the extended chase scene between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. For me these drawn-out chase scenes don’t add anything to the movie’s build-up but have me grabbing my phone, getting a coffee, or doing anything to kill time. Thankfully Big Driver’s director Mikael Salomon gets straight to the point and executes the scenes in a well-balanced way.
Will Harris, the film’s titular character, and Ann Dowd, who plays the event’s organiser Ramona Norville, were on top of their game. Their performances were not forced and elicited gut-wrenching hatred for their characters. We normally don’t see this level of acting and direction in made-for-TV movies so it’s rather refreshing to enjoy gems like this in the comfort of our homes. Maria Bello’s performance as Tess is good and she plays her part with incredible range of emotion showing the right amount of outrage when the society subtly suggests that what happened was her fault. Bello brings her character to life and with her acting she makes a strong statement on the society’s perception of sexual assault and how it is never brought on by the victim’s actions.
With the acting firing on all cylinders and the directing doing King’s original story justice, I would also like to note that the screenplay, adapted by Richard Christian Matheson (son of the great Richard Matheson), played a major part in the success of Big Driver. No matter how good the acting and directing are, if good source material was not used as a guide then the film would be destined to flop, and here Matheson provided a gripping and coherent depiction of King’s short story.
Big Driver is one not to be missed as it has all the elements of a great movie and is executed to near perfection. I had some serious reservations about it and expected it to be rather average. I could not have been more surprised with the outcome. If it ever becomes available on re-run or on some video on demand outlet then take a couple hours to enjoy this wonderful movie.
Original US TV Broadcast: 18th October 2014