Night Drive [Grimmfest Review]: Ridesharing Through a Noir
There’s something strangely unusual and just a little surreal about Christmas time in LA. No matter how many twinkling lights and tinsel strewn lawn ornaments are on display, it just doesn’t feel right. Night Drive perfectly utilises this backdrop for its cynical and darkly humorous exploration of one crazy night in the life of a rideshare driver, bringing a curious beauty to the Noir style thriller.
Russell (AJ Bowen) is alone for the holidays, driving around LA in his white Porsche that just seems to be a little too upmarket for his role as a driver. It is, along with his lack of real Christmas plans, a reminder of what he lost in the past and an embodiment of the regret he feels at the way his life has turned out. His bad decisions are not all behind him, as he is soon to find out during the escalating events of the night. When he picks up a young woman, Charlotte (Sophie Dalah), expecting a simple fare, he is quickly proven to be mistaken and ends up on a wild ride of murder and MacGuffins.
“Leon’s script especially shines through with sharp and eccentric dialogue, fast paced plotting, and one hell of an outrageously effective, tone shifting twist in the final act of the film.”
Upon pickup Charlotte’s demeanour intrigues Russell. She is a young woman with self-assured confidence and a strong skill for making men feel awkward. There is something intrinsically charming about her despite her erratic and evasive behaviour. Russell falls for this charm, perhaps chasing the excitement she seemingly promises with her caution less behaviour, perhaps just because of the cash she slips over to him. Her first stop is a quick one, a heist-like siege of a suitcase from an ex’s house with Russell as the getaway driver. Next on Charlotte’s agenda is a scenic tour of the Christmas lights of suburban LA, followed by a mild case of vehicular manslaughter. Now the night can really begin as Russell unwittingly falls down an anxiety ridden rabbit hole of bad decisions and cryptic clues.
The dynamic between the two is expertly set up, him the hapless straight man willing to make a few bad decisions for some extra cash and the thrill of mystery this woman brings to his life, and her the reckless and sharp tongued possible psychopath about to ensnare him into her world. The relationship between the two is a constant power play, with Charlotte frequently coming out on top, reminding Rusty (a somehow sweet and biting nickname she bestows upon the older man) of his lack of control over both his life and the direction of the night’s events. With the great dialogue and complex characterisation of the two leads, it makes a two shot from the dashboard of the car just as enthralling to watch as the accidental, and not so accidental, killings that are littered throughout this dark and wry Noir.
It’s not until the final act of this film that the gears shift and the pieces start to fall into place. The case that Charlotte liberated from her ex-boyfriend’s house has lingered in the background, becoming easily disregarded as a pointless plot device. It doesn’t seem to fully matter what is inside of it until it becomes the most important thing in the narrative. As the catalyst for the final twist in this Indie Noir, it transforms our readings of the events that have transpired and the behaviours that have been witnessed. A re-watch with knowing eyes seems inevitable.
The collaborative team of Brad Baruh and Meghan Leon bring a creative and stylish energy to their directing, utilising the LA location and the confines of a car as one of the main locations of the entire film. Leon’s script especially shines through with sharp and eccentric dialogue, fast paced plotting, and one hell of an outrageously effective, tone shifting twist in the final act of the film. Tightly constructed without a single second being wasted, it is an inventive and fresh take on the odd-couple thriller with a neat genre flare.