TIFF 2021: 'Drive My Car' | 'The Guilty' (Reviews)
DRIVE MY CAR
You will not drift in my Tokyo, you will simply just Drive My Car (ドライブ・マイ・カー in Japanese). Or you won't actually because the main character already has an assigned driver but surely you get the point. Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi who is also a co-writer with Oe Takamasa, the film adapts a short story by Haruki Murakami of the same name, dropping us first to lives of theatre director Yusuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and writer Oto (Reika Kirishima). They are a couple who also share a successful artistic collaboration as well as a layered past that the movie doesn't get into, until one fateful evening when Oto passes away, leaving Yusuke with unanswered questions about her and their relationship. Second part of the film finds Yusuke two years later, getting a new directing job that comes with an assigned driver Misaki (Toko Miura). During this time with the play and being a passenger for once, Yusuke starts unraveling the past.
You can make all the jokes you want with combination of the phrase ''adaptation of a short story'' and the three-hour runtime you discover, and as many of them can have a point, it won't paint the whole picture. First of all, the unraveling of the past is both ambitious and awarding which is commendable because the material definitely won't take the viewer for a fool. A road movie of sorts, Drive My Car takes some overlong routes at times that have some meandering going on (unfortunately with Misaki and Oto, main female characters) but it can get heavy with Yusuke and that's a feeling you appreciate after the credits begin rolling.
The question later with the film is whether the main story holds the water that is three hours, which it doesn't because of those several threads that turn out to be dead ends or because of moments that turn into sequences. Cinema has the great power of intended cuts, original score and intrusive sound design and those are rarely used in Drive My Car, making the impact of character growth deflate sometimes. Saving grace that the ambition comes from is the absolute powerhouse writing from Hamaguchi and Takamasa; the script has an undeniable flow with words and impressive way to shift characters from one location to another, a skill that becomes crucial in scenes on the road. It'd be quite understandable if you end up forgiving some weaker story elements because the wordplay is so fantastic.
Smileys: Screenplay, dialogue
Doing something for the first time is always an exciting opportunity to expand your writing so it's a pleasure to write about a remake after you've already seen the original version. Director Antoine Fuqua's version of The Guilty, the original being Danish film 'Den Skyldige' from 2018, transports its characters from Copenhagen to Los Angeles where fires are raging and policing is obviously different. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as emergency dispatcher and suspended cop Joe Baylor whose work shift before an important court date turns into a challenge after he gets a call from a woman who tells that she's been kidnapped. Not much has changed then in the translation but tensions still run high and spoilers should be avoided.
Not only is doing something for the first time exciting, but it's equally exciting when a remake (specifically an American remake) doesn't drop the ball. The Guilty luckily has its main strengths still in place with Gyllenhaal delivering work that is captivating and full of range, something that this mainly-one-man-show requires. That is not to say that the voice acting isn't great either because it is once again; much of the tension actually comes from believable distress as coming from Riley Keough and Christiana Montoya's characters. Premise of the movie gets a boost when the situation is created and you let the viewer's mind run wild.
Subtle secondary changes while keeping nearly everything major the same to the original is actually where the film has some issues. Seeing cars and scenery out of focus felt unnecessary because this version doesn't take the opportunity that the different country offered otherwise, a specific twist or two could've made this one stand on its own more. On the bright side though, the world of sound is also a highlight once again with the lead actor - editing of the calls and details of the outside are expertly done while the background noises and language have some of that specificity that the movie needed more of.
Smileys: Sound editing, Jake Gyllenhaal, voice acting, atmosphere
Frowneys: Originality (but not for usual reasons)