Maria Bello is the best part of “Big Driver”

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Caution: Mild spoilers ahead.

Out actress Maria Bello stars in the Lifetime adaptation of Stephen King‘s Big Driver this Saturday night, and her performance is so good, you’ll wish it were a series so you could watch her every week. Maria plays Tess Thorne, a single novelist famous for her series about a crime-solving knitting club. Tess makes the drive down to read in front of a group of elderly female fans where she meets the event organizer Ramona (Ann Dowd).

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In the Stephen King story, Ramona is later revealed to be a lesbian, but in the Lifetime version, Ramona is only interested in a male movie star, making no mention of a female partner. She’s also very different in style and stature from the more masculine Ramona of the book. This is neither a good nor bad thing that Lifetime changed this part of the plot, as Ramona is a villain in both stories, so her being de-gayed in the movie actually makes it a little less offensive. (We like our lesbian visibility to be positive, thank you!)

Ramona gives Tess some purposely misleading directions for her route home, leading her to an abandoned part of the country where she ends up running over nails in huge pieces of board and becoming stranded. Then when a stranger stops to help, it turns out the detour was planned all along, and Tess is in for days of brutal violence and rapes. (Serious trigger warning on this show as the rape scenes are very harsh and Maria plays them with incredible range of emotion.)

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Maria is joined by co-star Joan Jett, who plays Betsy Neal, the owner of a motorcycle bar in a town Tess stops through several times in Big Driver. The two bond over their having survived domestic violence (or what Tess leads Betsy to believe was domestic violence), and Tess seems comforted by their brief but meaningful conversation.

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But Tess has only one thing on her mind, and that’s revenge against the man who left her for dead in a sewer pipe. Instead of going to the authorities, she worries what people will think of her when they find out what’s happened, hearing the critics in her head as she plots her next move. (Olympia Dukakis plays one of those voices, also a character from Tess’s book series. Clearly Tess is supposed to read a little schizophrenic.)

Without spoiling the rest of the movie, suffice to say Maria Bello kills it as a woman intent on seeking vengeance for herself and others who have suffered before her. She goes from career-minded friendly cat lover to gun-toting bad ass in only a few days’ time, and viewers will have no choice but to root her on. While the Lifetime version does not follow the original story, it does keep the central character’s motivations in place, which drives home the point: Don’t fuck with a determined woman, especially if she’s played by Maria Bello.

Big Driver premieres Saturday, October 18 on Lifetime at 8/7c.

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