Adam Driver’s career has seen a J-like upward journey, only from the lowest inflexion point of the letter. His inspiring filmography has seen him follow a trajectory similar to that of Benedict Cumberbatch’s. A former US marine vet, the actor has gained fame on both television and theatre circles, with works like ‘Burn It’ and ‘Girls’ under his belt. Adam Driver has acted and starred in both indie movies like ‘Hungry Hearts’, and highlighting mega-franchise films in the Star Wars series. He is simply fearless in the way he gets in the skin of his characters. Personally, I like him when he does not need to act too much. Lighter roles or heavy, his easygoing style can never go amiss. We have curated a list of some of his best works. Happy reading!
10. Frances Ha (2012)
Driver’s supporting act in ‘Frances Ha‘ arguably launched his career. The Greta Gerwig-starrer is centred around the titular character and her adult life disrupted by her best friend moving out. It is one of those films that is not too relatable if you have not gone through what Frances has. The kind of independent, day-to-day living the film shows an affinity for becomes the very source of uncertainty.
Adam has a limited screen time but his act leaves a lasting impression. Characterizing Lev as a flirtatious player is probably not what Baumbach thought of at first. But his breezy stint turns out to be just that, in a harmless, fun-loving way. Without too much theatrics, Driver ensures that he is definitely something you take away from the experience. He has other elaborate, more detailed roles in films, but for some inexplicable reason, ‘Frances Ha’s cameo stands out for me for an introduction to the phenomenal actor Adam Driver is.
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9. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018)
Terry Gilliam’s com-edgy (comedy + tragedy) took more than two decades to complete. The project saw various changes in personnel during its conception. Adam Driver finally landed the role replacing Johnny Depp as Toby, a successful director shooting an ad campaign around Don Quixote in rural Spain. Suffering from a creative block, he strangely stumbles upon an old student film of his about the man who killed Quixote. From there on in, Gilliam’s dream film takes an unexpected turn with strong hallucinogenic elements. Bafflement, bemusement, and sheer anger define Toby’s state of mind when he finds himself in the middle of the drama around Javier, a local shoemaker, who believes himself to be Don Quixote.
Driver’s physicality is important in establishing a stark dynamic between him and Javier (Jonathan Pryce). The odd-looking couple never quite strike the chemistry we want them to, but understandably, it is because of Gilliam’s creative choices. The lanky actor seamlessly changes his disposition from a comedic tenor to a sombre one. His oscillation is defiant but is inadvertently failed by the film. ‘The Man Who Killed’ is enjoyable in parts and will please hardened Gilliam fans, despite the inconsistencies and a delirious narrative.
8. Annette (2021)
Do not go into watching ‘Annette’ by mistaking it for a comedy or a musical. No. You will be deeply pained with what you will see. Instead, try to read about the philosophy of Leos Carax, the director, and his style of filmmaking. The mad genius has stayed true to his polarizing body of work by delivering another intense, and in equal parts, confounding piece of art. It is hard to determine what the film is really about other than a love story that turns sour with jealousy and murder follows.
Adam Driver and Marion Cottilard play the protagonist couple, while the latter also voices their daughter’s lifeless puppet. Carax’s satire setup is mostly constituted of reflections of his previous films, although never actively projecting a cliched imitation.
Adam Driver’s powerful performance is hilarious and dangerously affecting. His kinetic energy flows through you as you watch his character evolve. Carax’s film is defined by fluidity and Driver is that complete element himself. The singing is on point, so are his cheeky standups.
Henry is hardly likeable but you definitely can’t ignore him, something that the world is now saying about China. Get ready to experience the tour de force performance with bated breath and the dreadful sense of things about to go oh so wrong.
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7. While We’re Young (2014)
It can be argued that the more connected technology has allowed us to be, we are even more so disconnected. Not from each other, but from ourselves. Noah Baumbach’s brilliant comedy uses it as the core conflict of Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia’s (Naomi Watts) lives. The yearning to be young fills their hearts with nostalgia and an unsaid reluctance to accept their reality. It is not so much the number that bothers them, but the feeling of being young. Decisiveness and confidence, or lack thereof, mark their frustrations. When they accidentally meet Darby and Jamie, the gap in their lives is even more pronounced. Against the liberated and unencumbered couple who still live amidst the worlds of vinyl records and VHS tapes, the Srebnicks come off as an ageing and dull couple, content in the mundane trappings of their urban lifestyle.
Baumbach’s relatable characters are inspiring in how they engage with generational differences. He reconciles the solemn deliberation on adulthood with transitory virtues about perception and finds that comedy is the most agreeable way to pull this off. Jaime is an interesting discussion, though. His sycophantic personality puts him in control of the many interactions he has in the film. The more we see of him, the less we like. The charming creativity and unassuming demeanour swiftly disintegrate to reveal an opportunistic and somewhat visionary person. Driver lends his unlikeable character warmth and rare genuineness seldom traced in such oddly fashioned tropes. The peculiar nature of his motivations is nicely kept not only from us, but at times it seems from himself as well. This deception of self truly defines the fallacy of youth. All I am saying is, Jaime might just be another Josh in the making.
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6. Hungry Hearts (2014)
‘Hungry Hearts’ is admittedly a bit undercooked. Despite the vast canvass of its themes, the drama fails to do justice to them. The noticeable bias towards Jude’s character does not bode well for it. The lax writing is outdone by powerfully performed lead turns by Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher. The former lets his eyes do most of the talking, which works out perfectly. Like so many of his other roles, Driver thrives when he is asked to emote without words. Not that he is worse with them, but without them, it is a joy to watch him act. The scene in the doctor’s office supports this observation. He doesn’t show any obvious signs of distress. Still, you can feel Jude’s fear, anger, helplessness, rage, guilt, sorrow, and love for his son. And yet those are all revealed so naturally, so subtly. It’s beyond masterful.
He is mesmerizing to watch and plays the role of the simpleton who is a good-natured person but unable to protect his son from his insane wife so so well. Jude is a challenging role. He is a good guy, but not the brightest barb on the wire, he is responsible for his own situation – he impregnated Mina on purpose, but then again, nobody deserves to end up in a situation like him. It’s tough and he did a brilliant job. Endnote: this is not the first time Driver has played the role of a child in a grown man’s body.
5. BlacKkKlansman (2018)
Spike Lee’s understanding of institutional and cultural subtext of American race relations is second to none. Yes, he is skilful as a director with his blocking, and cutting, and innovation in camera styles. His sense of narration always piques interest, while at the same time, remains a defying and emboldened reflection of his voice as an artist. But it is his ability to see the subtlety of time – past and present- that separates him from ordinary filmmakers. The slight nature of his socio-political edifice never interferes with his storytelling. Adam Driver plays Flip Zimmerman, a white Jewish cop impersonating a black colleague to infiltrate the ranks of the local KKK chapter. The bizarre-sounding plot is actually based on true events.
Driver’s chemistry with Washington Jr. is striking. Not only do they complement each other well, but they also add a strong emotional dimension to the film. The former’s uncanny ability to produce the unnerving authenticity in his role shines through. ‘BlacKkKlansman’ is another opportunity for him to show off his monologue skills. The “I never thought about it before, but now it’s all I think about” scene certainly gives credence to the notion that Driver is one of the most natural actors going around. Without too much experimenting or method shenanigans, he sinks his teeth into the character. His theatre background is chief in lending him irresistible visceral energy that he can dial down and up in a jiffy. A powerhouse performance from him.
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4. The Last Duel (2021)
The new Ridley Scott film is an epic in every meaningful way. Budget, cast, scale, and the historical context. ‘The Last Duel’, along with these, also has a beating heart that lets out an unwinding scream of institutional sexism. Scott’s observant storey examines the brutal, inhumane position of women in medieval France through the modern prism of systemic misogyny. The construct of the narrative is built like Akira Kurosawa‘s classic ‘Rashomon’.
The story hardly focuses on the value of truth, instead choosing to lay bare the value of man and an element of inherent deception in human nature. An introduction about the setup – squire Jacques le Gris is accused of raping Lady Marguerite, “property” of Sir Jean de Carrouges – is followed by three chapters with the detailed accounts of the three protagonists. Their versions of the events that transpired in the opening verse. Followed by ‘the last duel’.
While the ensemble lives up to its billing, Driver is clearly the standout performer. He starts out as a populist underdog; a man who rose from nothing to sit and feast beside the Lord Count. His charms with women are matched by his honour on the battlefield. But soon enough, as the central conceit is established, there is a disruption in our perception. The likeability and personality are replaced by doubt and malice. Like ‘Rashomon’, most of the scenes are acted out multiple times. The tenor obviously changes, requiring immense skill from the actors, who are up to it. Driver is a crafty shapeshifter, changing gears at a moment’s notice. His scope of roles just keeps on improving with every new film.
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3. Silence (2016)
Martin Scorsese‘s passion project revolves around not only the power of faith but also its desperation. The test of faith in ‘Silence‘ is neither straightforward nor pure. The lack of a didactic tone inspires a clear engagement from people of all faiths. Seeing it as a work centred around its historical context of apostasy and imperial rule diminishes Scorcese’s ability as a storyteller and reduces the larger idea of the turmoil between pride and suffering.
Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield play two Jesuit priests, who travel to Edo-era Japan after learning about their pupil Father Ferreira’s shocking and incredulous renouncement of his faith. But what they do not realize at the start of their journey is that this will be the toughest challenge they have faced in life.
‘Silence’ is a searing work that draws moral turpitude and compassion. The distinguishment of what amounts to be right is a grey area, left mostly to the viewer to decide. The twin leading performances anchor the story, while also creating compelling portraits of men at the extreme of their spirits. The punishing nature of the film’s central themes never quite relegate Driver and Garfield’s characters to the sidelines. Scorcese’s resonant drama keeps them afront with the buildup to the slow burn revelation.
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2. Paterson (2016)
When you come across films that dial down the drama and centre around characters in their ordinary course in life, the challenge to engage with it becomes the most crucial. Without too much exuberance, stories told with sincerity endure the most in our hearts. Dileesh Pothan’s ‘Thondimuthalam Driksakshiyam‘ comes to mind as a film that expertly manages these tropes. In its similarly unremarkably grounded style, Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Paterson’ is a winner.
The film’s poetic core celebrates the brooding spirit of an artist wandering the streets of Paterson, New Jersey as a bus driver. The slice-of-life experiment traverses through a week of Paterson’s (Driver) daily encounters with passengers in the bus. The non-assuming nature of ‘Paterson’ is specifically charming because of how it remains in the moment and oscillates gently within the beautifully constructed contours of its protagonist’s musings on life.
Adam Driver, as the titular character, acts very little. He compromises his ability as a performer to simply become a vessel for Jarmusch’s very personal project. And mind you: doing something like this takes immense skill and courage. It is not the run-of-the-mill character usually seen on celluloid. Even when others speak, the camera solely focuses on his face. Emoting the various conversations and what they might have felt like falls upon his responsible shoulders. He becomes a great access point for the viewer to ruminate on the power of thought and creation. Virtuously, the film is extremely close to ‘Inside Llewelyn Davis‘ and its titular character.
Excessive minimalism in ‘Paterson’ is maybe due to the surreal nature of what Paterson has experienced in life. There are various theories as to what happens in the film. But one thing is certain. Adam Driver really captured a contentedness with life that I think many of us aspire to, and that the simple pleasures he finds in one week of this life make for a very enjoyable watch.
Stream it on Prime Video
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1. Marriage Story (2019)
Partly, the film’s magnificent appeal for purists is down to Baumbach’s near-perfect script and direction. Most of the credit has to go to Johansson and Driver, though. Dramas like ‘Marriage Story’, which are so personally evocative and provocative, are hard to come by. But when they do, a straightjacket oversimplification must be avoided.
If Adam Driver had become a successful theatre director with a troubled marriage, you would not be able to tell him apart from Charlie. His most profound performance to date is a poignant, human portrait of a man caught in a communal straddle with his wife. Despite the high stakes, Charlie’s lack of emotional involvement on the surface is surprising. That, in retrospect, is revealed to be a facade, strictly unintentional.
His confrontation with reality, unlike Nicole, does not come with a raging, reel-like monologue. It is a slow-burn and gradual, sitting right beneath the surface. And Driver is along for every second of the ride. For most parts, his state of mind is that of confusion. The preoccupation with the play and the back and forth does not really give him too much time to sit down with himself.
As a result, Driver is handed the delicate task of navigating Charlie’s veiled grieving without an overt representation. It has to be so nuanced as to appear blank. Yes, the outrage finally spills in his ‘new apartment’ scene. But even in that instance, he hardly loses control. His is one of my favourite performances of the last decade and definitely makes the film more lively and tense.