Bruce Dern did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning NSFC, for portraying Coach Bullion in Drive, He Said.
Drive, He Said is a film with many ineffectual performances that often come off as obnoxious, dull or just simply not very cinematic. The great exception to this is Bruce Dern in the role as the Coach of the Basketball team Hector plays with. Bullion is not to much of a character he is just always trying to push Hector to fly straight and push his team to win the game. Dern's performance just has a presence no one else has in the film. When he is on screen the film does come alive in a certain way because he brings a certain energy to the part sorely missing from most other places in the film. Although the point of his character is simple Dern does bring this point alive effectively.
Dern does well in showing the differences in the Coach's approach. When in practice or on a game Dern reflects the intensity of the situation as he portrays the Coach as being particularly direct to get his points across as quickly and firmly as possible. Dern makes Coach Bullion like a military strategist positioning his troops and motivating him his way so they get the job done. When they are not on the court Dern tones down Bullion to make him a believable character. Dern still makes him forceful in his attempts to shape up Hector but shows him to be much quieter yet still persistent figure. Dern instead of having the piercing criticisms of the court, he makes Bullion criticisms in the form of a restrained disappointment.
Unfortunately for Dern as well as the film itself Coach Bullion is not featured all that often and really the character is almost entirely made by Dern's performance. Dern tends to be a reliable character actor and certainly is reliable here. There is just only so much he can do with his underused and underwritten character, but hey he did make me wish the film had been about his character's story to bring his team to the championship. This is not a great performance by Bruce Dern but it certainly is a solid one which does manage to steal the film even though there really is not all that much of a film to steal.