HomeEntertainment NewsThis Underseen Adam Driver Movie Is Also His Best Performance So Far

This Underseen Adam Driver Movie Is Also His Best Performance So Far

Given how well-known he’s become in the pop culture zeitgeist, it can be hard to remember that Adam Driver made his first film appearance as late as 2011 in the Clint Eastwood feature J. Edgar. After that, though, Driver hit the ground running with a buzzy role in the TV show Girls, as well as appearances in films hailing from auteurs ranging from Steven Spielberg to Martin Scorsese to Noah Baumbach. All the while, Driver has continued to impress moviegoers from all walks of his life with his richly detailed characters and his gift for saying so much in restrained terms.

Though many probably know him best as Kylo Ren from Star Wars or for his Academy Award-nominated roles in BlackKKKlansman and Marriage Story, those aren’t his best turns in front of the camera. Instead, Driver’s greatest performance to date comes from a movie that may have slipped through the cracks for many moviegoers. I’m talking about the titular lead role in the 2016 indie film Paterson. A quiet, observational work, it’s also one where Driver gets to deliver an outstanding thesis statement on all the qualities that define him as one of modern cinema’s most exciting performers.


Driver and Jim Jarmusch Are a Perfect Match

Adam Driver in Paterson
Image via Bleecker Street Media

Paterson hails from the mind of writer/director Jim Jarmusch, an eclectic voice in the world of indie cinema since the 1980s. As evidenced by projects like Stranger Than Paradise and Coffee and Cigarettes, Jarmusch is a filmmaker with a relaxed observational view of the world. His movies aren’t the kind of films you watch when you’re in the mood for something with a propulsive sense of energy. However, they are perfect when you want to watch something that can make you appreciate the little details of life that can get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday existence.

Driver’s titular performance in Paterson brilliantly equips itself with this defining aesthetic of Jarmusch’s filmography. Paterson is not a character full of dark secrets or stewing in discontent over ordinary life. He works as a bus driver, he makes friendly chit-chat with his neighbors, he writes poems. His life isn’t exceptional but it’s comforting. Driver’s quiet but warm presence invites the viewer in and allows us to become acquainted with the normalcy that has defined Paterson’s life. The laidback attitude of Jarmusch’s directing is something Driver exemplifies effortlessly.

Driver’s work as Paterson is extra impressive considering how he consistently grabs our attention despite it being so easy for this character to get lost in his own movie. At times, Paterson is as much of a tour guide through oddball inhabitants of his New Jersey home as anything else. Other figures in the story, such as Paterson’s artist girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), are intentionally given more pronounced personalities that could, in theory, cast a shadow too large for the character of Paterson to ever emerge from.

‘Paterson’ and Driver Embrace the Beauty in Silence

Adam Driver in Paterson
Image via Bleecker Street Media

Luckily, Driver has always demonstrated a gift for leaving an impact even when he isn’t the constant center of attention (just think of how much of an impression he left in his brief role in Inside Llewyn Davis solely from his delivery of the words “Outer! Space!”). Here in Paterson, Driver’s able to command a subdued but engaging aura in even the most throwaway moments, like when he’s asking Laura how her day of painting has gone. Through this energy, Driver’s Paterson isn’t lost in the shuffle but rather rendered a sun that the other characters can orbit around. Our eyes may drift to these planets, but the center of Jarmusch’s mellowed-out solar system never leaves our gaze.

This quietly engaging quality also makes Driver’s shifts in emotion land with a profound impact. A scene where Paterson’s pet bulldog shreds his journal full of poems doesn’t see Driver responding through loud instances of shouting. Instead, just a curt “I don’t like you, Marvin” says it all about the frustrations boiling up inside this bus driver. Driver’s talent for making so much out of minimal resources is a gift inside Paterson. Here, within this naturalistic depiction of subdued adulthood, Driver can use a few words to make his character’s emotions as vivid as possible.

Driver also exudes a lived-in quality that deftly conveys so much prior experience. A moment where Paterson attempts to fix his crooked mailbox, for example, is entirely dialogue-free; there isn’t verbal commentary to clue us into how long this object has been this faulty. Yet Driver’s composure, body language, and sense of timing indicate how this isn’t the first time he’s had to confront his leaning mailbox. Through all these tiny details of his performance, Driver ensures that a small moment of comedy is something that can communicate aspects of Paterson’s past.

‘Paterson’ Feels Lived In

Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani in Paterson
Image via Bleecker Street Media

The chemistry Driver has with his various co-stars also conveys years of experience. Stories from the past that informed the bonds he’s developed fascinatingly linger on the margins. There’s a suggestion of whole other lives, other stories that the audience never sees but feels just from the way Driver carries himself with other actors. Driver’s constant gift for conveying the past while being rooted firmly in the present makes the world of Paterson feel rich with decades of experience.

These and other memorable aspects of Driver’s performance emanate from one source: a sense of confidence. Specifically, Driver is assured enough as an actor to trust that Jarmusch’s filmmaking and a restrained atmosphere will capture people’s attention. He doesn’t fill the screen with eccentric tics or over-the-top line deliveries to make Paterson a character that the audience can invest in. Instead, Driver opts for making the bold but correct choice in trusting subtlety. It’s how he’s able to make Paterson feel so much like a person you or I might just stumble onto on the street. It’s how he’s able to just fade into the background of certain scenes while the focus shifts onto the conversations of the passengers on the bus. It’s how he’s able to make a curt phrase towards a bulldog loudly capture his character’s frustrations with the world. By trusting the uniquely relaxed vibes of Paterson, Driver discovers countless opportunities to excel as an actor.

Flip through any of Jarmusch’s movies and you’ll find no shortage of lead performances that have excelled by inhabiting this filmmaker’s uniquely low-key vision of the world. Following in the footsteps of Forrest Whitaker and Tilda Swinton, Driver’s work in Paterson unearths the subtly transfixing qualities in just an ordinary bus driver. By not working overtime to convince audiences that this character is special enough to headline a movie, Driver crafts a personality ripped so impressively from reality itself. Ironically, in a movie where he’s so often not the sole focus, Driver’s talents are more apparent than ever in his masterfully restrained performance in Paterson.



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