One of the most accomplished actors of his generation, equally adept at conveying volcanic rage and soft-spoken humility, Adam Driver’s greatest gift arguably is that he has fantastic taste in material. Cribbing from Tom Cruise’s early career playbook, Driver has prioritized appearing in original screenplays and working with the era’s preeminent filmmakers over showing up in franchises and extended cinematic universes (even his time spent in a galaxy far, far away came with the promise of being directed by J.J. Abrams, which seemed like a good idea back when the project was first announced). Driver’s still in his thirties and has already worked with the likes of Scorsese, Spielberg, the Coens, Ridley Scott, Jarmusch, Carax, Spike Lee, Soderbergh, and Baumbach (and he still has Michael Mann’s Ferrari, presumably due later this year). All of which is to say, when Driver appears in a dud like 65, it stands out all the more. It’s not simply that he’s better than the film, it’s that he must realize it, and so one finds themselves leaning forward, trying to make sense of what even attracted the actor to the role in the first place. Perhaps he wanted to make something his young child could appreciate, or maybe he secretly longed to film a dinosaur movie, or (most likely) it simply paid well and coincided with a gap in his schedule. Whatever the reason, the resulting film doesn’t serve him especially well, nor he it.
Established in an opening title card that the film is set millions of years in the past on the other side of the universe — one could imagine this playing as a Planet of the Apes-like revelation for the audience, spoiled by overeagerness — where stoic spaceman and #GirlDad Mills (Driver) has made the difficult decision to embark on a two-year-long mission, ferrying passengers across the cosmos in order to make enough money for his daughter’s life-saving medical treatment. Serving as pilot and sole passenger not tucked away in cryostasis, Mills is jarred awake mid-mission as his ship flies into an uncharted asteroid field. With his ship suffering catastrophic damage, jettisoning cryo pods all the way down, Mills makes an emergency crash landing on an unsettled planet inhabited by hostile “alien” creatures that the viewer will recognize as dinosaurs (again, this is something that might have been fun to discover while watching the film instead of being front and center in its marketing campaign). With his ship irreparably crippled, all his passengers dead, and seemingly no hope for rescue, Mills steps outside with the intention of blowing his brains out, only to be halted by memories of his adorable daughter and the sight of one of the stray cryo pods with a passenger still alive inside of it. Upon rescuing young Koa (Ariana Greenblatt), a child around his daughter’s age who rather inconveniently doesn’t speak English, Mills rediscovers his sense of purpose and sets out with his young ward to find the escape craft attached to the other half of his ship all while avoiding T-Rexes, quicksand, killer parasites, and other Cretaceous-era dangers.
Despite its high-concept premise, 65 is fundamentally modest in its ambitions. Running a brisk 93 minutes (one of the best arguments in its favor), there isn’t much fat on the film — we’re already well into the story by the time we get to its opening title. We’re long past the novelty of seeing prehistoric creatures depicted on screen, and the film seems to recognize as much, treating packs of Compsognathuses and other “smaller” dinosaurs practically like house cats jumping out at the screen, simply to goose the viewer before working its way up to the boss dinosaurs. With its “modern” adventurer and small child in tow, running and gunning at dinosaurs, the film calls to mind a less campy version of the old Land of the Lost TV series, something which, on the face of it, sounds diverting enough. But Driver’s all wrong for material this flimsy, radiating self-seriousness and steely intelligence when what the film demands is someone who can appear nonchalant popping his shoulder back into place just in time to snatch his laser rifle and blast advancing giant lizards. There’s an under-served strain of trauma and depression ribboned throughout the film — between the crash, the nod to suicide, and subsequent rededication to survival, at times 65 resembles a jankier version of Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, a comparison which feels less and less like a coincidence as it progresses — which may have been what appealed to Driver about the script, but here it’s so cut to the bone it would have benefited from being excised altogether.
The film was directed by the team of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who, having written A Quiet Place, know of melding family drama with a creature feature. But what’s missing is the sense of showmanship, an emphasis on visual storytelling, or even the sort of drawn-out setpieces favored by their A Quiet Place director, John Krasinski. The film’s in such a hurry to get to the next “thrilling” moment or to “up the stakes” (it introduces a ticking clock element around the halfway point that, if nothing else, explains why 20th-century excavators never stumbled onto all this cool, intergalactic technology) that it hurtles past any of the theoretical grandeur of the premise. It’s not easy to make spaceman vs. dinosaurs feel commonplace, but somehow 65 pulls it off. Not helping matters is how derivative this all is, shamelessly reappropriating motifs, shots, and entire sequences from the likes of Interstellar and the first two Jurassic Park films. In the absence of anything truly innovative or even particularly exciting, any hope of the film succeeding lands on its leading man’s shoulders. But without any other adults to interact with, the film plays to none of Driver’s strengths, leaving the actor little to do but react to CGI beasties, fire futuristic weapons, and over-emote in order to convey basic information to a confused moppet. Adam, you’re better than this; leave this sort of thing to one of the Chrises.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 10.