Directed By: Eli Drinkwitz
Starring: Larry Rountree, Nick Bolton, Connor Bazelak, Joshuah Bledsoe
Synopsis: A cool, collected and experienced running back with a tough-as-nails reputation gets called to a dangerous job — take down a seemingly undefeatable gang called the, “Wildcats,” by doing what he does best: Drive.
One of the unfortunate parts about football is the violence of it all — the literal harm it enacts upon a person’s body. And unlike older, more tradition-heavy sports like boxing, the violence rarely ever seems planned or dignified. Instead, it constantly feels like pure, unadulterated chaos. Rare is the feature that both acknowledges this fact while bringing a sense of grace and style to the affair.
Enter Drive, Eli Drinkwtiz’s fourth feature at Mizzou Studios and his second consecutive hit after the stunning success of Mission: Impossible.
It’s easy to assume directors can be locked into a stylistic lane, especially if you buy into auteur theory. After all, many directors find success with one genre and choose to lock themselves in for the long haul (see Leach, Mike at Mississippi State Studios.) It’s refreshing, then, to be reminded that some creators are adaptive and willing to explore new creative lanes to mix things up and find greater success in the process.
In Drive, Larry Rountree III stars as The Driver. He’s a bad man that ensures his people get where they need to go by any means necessary: efficiency, brutality and everything in between. In doing this work, he finds himself up against the Wildcats, a gang with a frustrating reputation of being unbeatable. Rountree proceeds to batter the Wildcats into submission, pounding them into the ground with a controlled violence that feels brutal, yet deliberate.
As the star of the show, Rountree is uniquely qualified to carry Drive on his shoulders. He’s been cast in many of Eli Drinkwitz’s previous efforts, but always more as a complimentary character to the high-flying charisma of a star like Connor Bazelak. This time, Rountree takes center stage, and he proves quickly that he’s more than capable of headlining. Rountree has long been a valuable part of Mizzou Studios, but hasn’t gotten the same attention as some of his flashier counterparts. Rountree has a bruising, methodical approach to his craft that some people consider boring. But what those people miss is the level of consistency and excellence Rountree has continued to display in that time. When he’s called upon, you know he’s going to get the job done, and he does so excellently in Drive.
Of course, it takes the right director to give an actor like Rountree the right script to work with. Drinkwitz has proven he’s capable of fireworks, but in Drive he shows that he’s able to work with slower, less traditionally explosive material. While that may sound less exciting, there’s an obvious intention to it all. Drinkwitz plans out a story that suits Rountree’s talents well, allowing him to operate and fill in the spaces the rest of the cast opens up for him. This requires a generosity of the supporting cast that is there in spades, especially from Bazelak, who steps back from his starring role and allows Rountree to shine.
Don’t get confused, though. Even if Drive is much slower fare than some of Drinkwitz’s previous work, it’s no less entertaining. The steady, skull-pounding efficiency of it all requires emotional payoff to really be effective. That payoff is found within the bounds of Rountree’s performance, which despite its deliberate pace, can be surprisingly explosive at times. Those moments are accentuated and stand out among some of the more plodding story elements, creating a pace that is clearly planned, but able to keep you on your toes at the same time. It’s not quite enough to rise to the level of horror, but there’s a real thriller element that has been sorely lacking from Mizzou Studios and their productions over the past few years. Rountree and the Tigers never quite put the Wildcats away too early in the story, allowing Drinkwitz to manipulate and ratchet up the tension before giving the audience a cathartic moment — like when Rountree dispatches a Wildcat goon in his own territory to the delight of the surrounding cast.
So as Eli Drinkwitz continues his run as the head director at Mizzou Studios, it feels good to know that, as an audience, loyalists appear to be in good hands, no matter how he chooses to operate. He’s proven he can pick up and slow down the pace while never losing the satisfaction of a good payoff or any entertainment value. He may have more inconsistent efforts in the future, but as long as he leans on the talent as his disposal and stays adaptive to said talents, he’ll continue to grow in the minds of his followers and fans.