Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Mikael Salomon
Written by: Richard Christian Matheson
(based on the novella BIG DRIVER by Stephen King)
Starring: Maria Bello, Joan Jett, Olympia Dukakis, Ann Dowd & Will Harris
When I looked at the October’s upcoming titles a few months back, I was surprised to see two new Stephen King adaptations on the way that were both from his latest anthology FULL DARK, NO STARS. A GOOD MARRIAGE opened up on VOD earlier this month to very negative reviews and BIG DRIVER premiered on the Lifetime Network last night. That channel carries a huge baggage around its TV movies for good reason, most of them are absolute garbage. I actually watched and was planning on reviewing their remake of FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC and its sequel PETALS IN THE WIND. I quickly gave up on reviews for both, because I didn’t have anything interesting to say other than repeating the words melodramatic crap over and over. BIG DRIVER on the other hand is far from melodramatic crap and I’d attribute that to real talent behind the scenes and a great performance from Maria Bello.
BIG DRIVER follows author Tess Thorne. She’s just spoken at a library event at a tiny town in Massachusetts. After following some friendly advice and taking a shortcut through a desolate forest road, Tess hits a bit of junk in the middle of the street and winds up stranded with a flat tire. A good Samaritan seems to come along in the form of a boisterous redneck truck driver, but his intentions are evil. Tess winds up raped, violated, and left for dead in a sewer grate. Deeply traumatized by the experience and feeling a little piece of herself die inside, Tess goes through the steps to get revenge and find peace of mind. It’s a rape-revenge tale as done by Stephen King and it aired on basic cable. I can safely say that I never saw either one of those coming a few years earlier.
Three of the cast and crew behind BIG DRIVER actually worked with Stephen King material prior to this TV film. Maria Bello starred as Mort’s wife in SECRET WINDOW. Mikael Salomon directed two episodes of TNT’s underrated mini-series NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES, while Richard Christian Matheson also wrote the teleplay for the best episode of that same series. These three are a winning combination that work extremely well together. Salomon’s visual style is unusually professional and gritty for a made-for-the-small-screen film, let alone a Lifetime movie. Maria Bello does a fantastic job as Tess, conveying every bit of sadness and rage brewing in her character as the latter outweighs the former by the second half. The best part is Richard Christian Matheson’s script though. He finds creative ways to put us deep inside Tess’s psyche, including brief visions of her mentality and her talking with a character from her books (as well as the clever usage of a GPS voice).
BIG DRIVER is a grimy experience that encapsulates uncomfortable subject matter. Seeing that this is on TV though, certain cuts had to be made in order to air it. While only one major moment near the climax does show restraint, the film gets away with a lot for a small screen rape-revenge flick. A few problems poke up in a couple of unneeded plot threads, especially the absolutely wasted used of Joan Jett. It seems like the filmmaker just went “Hey, we could get Joan Jett!” and Matheson wrote in one scene to include her, but that was the amount of care put into Jett’s inclusion. While the rape scene is still brutal, it’s mercifully short and doesn’t revel in excess (this is far from I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE territory). I actually found it refreshing to get a rape-revenge story that focuses so much on the characters psyche and doesn’t wallow in being a gory exploitation B-flick. It was a neat way to see an otherwise tired and trashy concept done right.
I would rank BIG DRIVER second on the mercifully short list of rape-revenge flicks that I’ve sat through in their entirety. The only one that I think is higher up would be the remake of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. Both are entirely different films though. This was a surprisingly good Stephen King adaptation that doesn’t feel like it belonged on TV (of all things, Lifetime). It’s very ironic that this TV movie actually wound up being better than A GOOD MARRIAGE from what I’ve heard (which is currently on VOD, in select theaters, and being compared to a stereotypical Lifetime movie by many people). BIG DRIVER is far from your typical Lifetime movie (due to pushing the boundaries and commendable talent behind it) and not your average King adaptation (due to putting a new spin on a well-worn formula). If you’re at least remotely interested, then give this one a chance.