Drive Angry

| May 31, 2011

The Nicolas Cage super actioner Drive Angry could have just as easily been titled after the famous Stone Cold Steve Austin creed, “Arrive, Raise Hell, Leave.” Following the classical narrative formula that features a “goal-oriented protagonist,” Drive Angry sets up its plot and then hurtles through its narrative at top speed, following its “man on a mission” and his process of raising hell en route to reaching his goal, and it makes for an insanely high level of fun and excitement.
Cage plays former criminal John Milton. Milton was murdered many years ago, but now he has escaped from Hell to avenge the recent murder of his daughter by a Satanic cult leader (played by Billy Burke of recent Twilight fame), who, upon murdering Milton’s daughter, abducted his granddaughter for a ritualistic sacrifice that will bring Hell to Earth. Accompanying Milton on his quest is a young woman named Piper (Amber Heard), who gave him a ride and who he subsequently saved from her cheating and abusive fiancé. Complicating his mission for vengeance is an enigmatic character who refers to himself as The Accountant (William Fichtner), an emissary of the Devil tasked with bringing back the “fugitive” Milton.
Of course, recent years have not been kind to Cage’s reputation. He is frequently derided for silly role choices and hammy performances, and I will not hesitate to mention that I am often one of those voices deriding him. But on this occasion, Cage found himself surrounded by a talented group of people that were able to help him produce a film of respectable quality. Some people believe there is only so much you can do with poor material. If you ask me, though, there is definitely something to be said for the efforts of the filmmaking team. With lesser and less-interested people involved, this film could’ve been a huge dud, but with the cast in place, Patrick Lussier directing, and William Dawson heading the skilled Special Effects team, Drive Angry came out a well-performed, superbly-executed action film.
For all that can be said by way of compliments to the cast for what they did with the material, it only goes so far considering this film absolutely revolves around its action. And there’s a lot of action. A lot. And it’s all great. It’s violent and bloody, but it never goes over the line of acceptability/believability, and since the action is anchored by the universally identifiable drive of a father willing to go the ends of the Earth (and beyond) for his child, it manages to satisfy both sides of the equation. Drive Angry works as both story and spectacle, and while it may seem to exemplify the “mindless action movie,” it’s actually films like Drive Angry that prove the way to get an action movie to work is to give careful thought and consideration to how to get all of the moving pieces to function as a coherent whole.
If you want to watch a mindless action movie, I’m afraid you’ll have to watch something else, because the people who made Drive Angry are competent filmmakers and performers, and they managed to put together a film with a satisfying degree of emotionality, intellectuality, and, of course, action!

About the Author:

Kyle Barrowman is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at Columbia College in Chicago. In addition to his work for Film Monthly, he has previously published essays for Cashiers du Cinemart, Offscreen, and The International Journal of Žižek Studies, on subjects ranging from film noir to Alfred Hitchcock, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Lee.
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