Indie vs. Mainstream: A Fight Over Adam Driver

Adam Driver surely is a gifted talent and moreover seemingly born on Sunday. His luck is in escape from being labelled a Star Wars black-hearted bad boy forever. Sometimes this thing happen even to really good actors who had their path crossed with a top popular franchise, remembering Daniel Radcliffe or Robert Pattinson (the latter is at least trying to ruin the curse of Twilight by trying different genres: western in Damsel, indie in The Lighthouse and the forthcoming next Batman). Of course he will be associated with Star Wars in some inevitable way, but still both filmmakers and audience see his diverse and flexible acting potential, waiting him to make something brand new. Within past three years he made an appearance in very different independent films, but were these direcors` experiments successful – it is still up to the audience to decide. Jim Jarmush, Spike Lee, Terry Gilliam, and back to Jim Jarmush again – all of them wanted Driver in their movies for his something special in acting, and all of them got him casted. Didn`t Adam get lost in this magic garden of cinematic temptation?

Taking Star Wars off the table, I have a feeling that in some indie films there are too less Driver that we wanted to see. So charismatic and out-of-pattern, he is overshadowed by directors` ideas and antics. After brilliant and soft-hearted Paterson (2016) all of his fans held their breath in anticipation of two highly-expected openings of 2018. First, Spike Lee`s BlackKklansman, that turned out to be actual and socially relevant in terms of political discourse but too politicized from the point of view of art – I am always trying to judge films by cinematic value only, so this one unfortunately hung up between a far-fetched biopic, a propaganda, a grotesque, a dark comedy and a documentary. All in all, it gained Oscar for the Best Adapted Screenplay in 2019, but there is nothing to say about Driver in this movie. For sure he is not bad, but not extremely awesome either, as many might have expected. He is pale, and that`s the serious sentence for such an actor. Maybe this was a part of director`s vision, I just simply refuse to believe that Adam Driver can be milk-and-water on his own will.

©Photo credit: Focus Features, Legendary Pictures

BlackKlansman was followed by The Man Who Killed Don Quixote by Terry Gilliam the same year. That is a Babylon Tower of global filmmaking: being an iconic example of the production hell, it also leaves no deep impression, comparing to other Gilliam`s films. Longish production story played a bad joke with the final result, the initial idea seems to lie far away from the visual way we got it on screen in 2018. Gilliam first thought about this concept in distant 1990, since then the project has been caught in an endless sandstorm of obstacles: conflicts with sponsors, troubled casting, Gilliam`s own attention to his other ideas (while fighting the windmills he has managed to make 7 other films). And finally, hooray – all circles of production hell are completed, the film has seen the screen with its all-star but motley cast, generously seasoned with some ‘soup of the day’. Pardon me, but I will never believe that such an idealistic and fanatic storyteller like Gilliam, who has always been deep into construction of his own signature imaginary worlds onscreen, can come up with such a boring cliché like Russian oligarchs, Muslim immigrants or Trump jokes.

In this strange movie about tempting the man who has a goal with money and relativism Adam Driver plays the film director who got into a production hell like Gilliam himself, and Sancho Panza (the imaginary Sancho Panza in the eyes of a local imaginary Don Quixote), and even Don Quixot at heart. It was so hard to stay monochrome in such a spectre of colorful roles, but Driver was as blurred as the film itself. Same with the BlackKklansman: it was not bad, but there is no intention to rewatch. Being commercialized by mighty studios and sponsors, Gilliam`s idea affected the lead actor – he is seemingly being controlled, limited, like being kept in an imaginary cage. How could this happen in a film by one of the most independent dreamers in the world? Probably I have not noticed how the world has turned upside down…

©Photo credit: Alacran Pictures, Tornasol Films

I might have thrown the word ‘probably’ into recycle bin after seeing new Jarmush`s movie The Dead Don`t Die. It is really a crucial change within the industry if Jarmush has lost his signature after Gilliam. The comfortable feeling of special atmosphere of every film by Jarmush this time has not even appeared. Same with the sense of whole and philosophical wit, tasty like a home-made jam. Twin Peaks could be like this if filmed by Gilliam or Lars Von Trier. Nor do I see the another Jarmush`s movie like a derivative quote from his earlier works, but there is nothing of a masterpiece in The Dead Don`t Die. And, unfortunately, there is no overwhelming intention to see it again, to cite it randomly the way only closest friends will understand, to seek for some symbolic minor details. It is not a Jarmush-style movie, despite of most conditions satisfied: an all-star cast (almost all of Jarmush`s faves from the legendary Coffee And Cigarettes times), contemplative action (like in Paterson), spiritual and attractive music by SQŰRL. Jarmush`s full-time muses are also here: Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Adam Driver himself, Tom Waits, Iggy Pop and Bill Murray. Tom Waits undoubtedly steals the show with his first appearance and words in The Dead Don`t Die, Steve Buscemi sarcastically portrayed the nightmare of Cali democrats – a pro-Trump farmer, while Iggy Pop, this restless old gentleman, took part in the movie just because it`s much of a fun. Anywhere, having all these aces in hand, the puzzle is not full, and Adam Driver`s performance leaves the strange impression of an unfinished portrait.

©Photo credit: Animal Kingdom

Strange is normal for a zombie movie, you may say. So I would reply with the Only Lovers Left Alive oddity: same Tilda with much more cold energy and sweet insanity in her performance as a vampire, here she is like a porcelain doll, with her aesthetics on but with no soul inside. Only Lovers… has the same SQŰRL soundtrack, but the way it sound makes you download it asap and listen melancholically while bouncing in an almost empty night subway train. Jarmush`s vampire ode is equally full of acclaimed and diversely tempered actors whose talents shine more powerful and alive. By the way, it is built on a mystic plotline as well, but somehow its depth, symbolism, sharpness and bold daring can`t hardly be measured up by The Dead… That was true Jarmush. Those empty streets of half-haunted Detroit await you to come back, while Centerville is just a one-time whistle-stop.

©Photo credit: Animal Kingdom

It is a sad impression left after The Dead Don`t Die like the film was made by someone else, not Jarmush. The director never concealed that he prefers the vampire aesthetics the most, and zombie movie was a kind of a funny experiment, but still I should have known better that it was not gonna end well (citing Adam Driver`s character this time) from the very beginning, when the movie got an unprecedented advertising campaign, incompatible to any other Jarmush`s film. There are too many “Easter eggs” and indirect links to other movies in particular and to the pop, not underground culture in general. Tilda Swinton`s character is practicing Oriental martial arts and exercises with samurai swords, like a friendly kick in Tarantino`s back. Twin Peaks that I`ve mentioned earlier is not the random comparison as well: the very picture of Centerville may slightly remind you of the mysterious town with the entering road sign, the old-fashioned road café with its day-to-day familiar faces, the local police station and Caleb Landry Jones who plays in season 3 – a friendly waving hand to David Lynch this time. Should I mention the Adam Driver`s cast-iron affiliation to Star Wars this time – the Star Destroyer key chain episode pretends to be the movie`s hottest moment. Such a new hope, in a month we will see him again in his most popular and powerful iconic role, and maybe this performance will actually be more qualitative that the ones of the independent projects being slowly consumed by studios and streaming giants.

©Photo credit: Netflix

Those streaming giants, however, may lead Driver not just to the all-world teenage Star Wars hype, but to the serious cinematic awards as well. This September the Netflix-led drama Marriage Story starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson entered the main competition at `76 Venezia Biennale and almost stole the Golden Lion from Joker. The successful opening was followed by theatrical release, and later in December the film will be available at Netflix. It has already won two minor nominations for Best Music (Randy Newman) and Supporting Actress (Laura Dern) at Hollywood Film Awards. Having 97% at Rotten Tomatoes and 8/10 of IMDB rating under its belt, the tangled and realistic story may have all the chances for the main award battle.




  1. Diletant
    November 11th, 2019 | 10:34 pm

    Once again, my ‘Bravo!!!’ to the Author of this highly spirited, very professional and genuingly beautiful piece of cinema reviews! Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB ratings are very good and well-established, but in this case we have a very special kind of a review that combines the depth of understanding and knowledge of the mordern cinematography and spontanious but always timely reaction to the latest events in this wonderful world of cinema. From actors, directors and producers to the composers and musicians…
    Thank you, kot_pofigist!

Оставить комментарий