Directors: Brad Baruh, Mehgan Leon
Writer: Meghan Leon
Cast: AJ Bowen, Sophie Dalah, Scott Poythress, Andrew Enloe
Producers: Brad Baruh, Meghan Leon
Music: Michael McQuilken
Cinematographer: Brad Baruh
Editor: Meghan Leon
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 82mins
What’s the story: Ride share driver Russell (Bowen) picks up the Australian Charlotte (Dalah) and finds himself on a wild night in LA. People are after Charlotte, but what is her secret and can she be trusted?
What’s the verdict: With Die Hard, Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Lethal Weapon, and L.A. Confidential, Los Angeles is building itself a nice collection of Christmas crime movies. Earning its place in this selection box is Brad Baruh and Meghan Leon’s Night Drive. Working from Leon’s own script, the two directors have fashioned one of the most surprising movies you will see all year.
Bowen is amusingly exasperated as Russell. A near-miss tech billionaire after selling his stake in an app before it went public, Russell is resigned to an existence of driving other people to better lives. Unfortunately for him, Night Drive riffs on the plot of Michael Mann’s Collateral. Soon, the driver finds himself ferrying Dalah’s Charlotte from one clearly dodgy deal to the next. An enraged ex-boyfriend (Enloe) is no big threat, but can the same be said for Frank (Poythress), who seems to match the wily Aussie in cunning and knows exactly what her game is.
Baruh was previously director and co-writer of Dead Night, which starred Bowen and had Leon on editing duties. That film underwent drastic surgery following an unsuccessful festival premiere. While Dead Night emerged as a watchable horror movie, Night Drive is a huge advance. And clearly a labour of love, with Baruh also the film’s cinematographer and Leon its editor.
With script, direction and plot all tight as a drum, this is a first-rate example of storytelling on the move. Characters are witty, the dialogue fizzes and Bowen and Dalah have real comedy-antagonism chemistry. As the film turns down darker roads, deeper themes of regret and loss are neatly slipped in. Christmas, that time of year as miserable as it is magical, becomes more and more a perfect backdrop.
Then the film changes lane in a way that is both jaw-dropping and totally in synch with what has gone before. No spoilers here of course, but it cements Night Drive’s status as a cult movie in the making.
A journey that gets you where you’re going quickly and dazzles along the way? That deserves five stars.