With FORCED PERSPECTIVE in the middle of its bye-week, I figured I would (finally) bring back my movie reviews with a film that has become one of my favorite films of the year – Drive. Directed by the great Nicholas Winding Refn, and starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, and Christina Hendricks.
Basic Non-Spoiler Plot Summary: Ryan Gosling plays a part-time Hollywood stuntman/part-time auto shop worker who moonlights as a getaway driver. He develops a relationship with his neighbor (played by Carey Mulligan) and her son. Said relationship drives (no pun intended) the drama of the story, with their safety being “Driver’s” number one concern…
“If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours no matter what. I don’t sit in while you’re running it down; I don’t carry a gun… I drive.” Driver’s (Ryan Gosling) opening lines of the film
The Pros: In the interest of, well, organization, I’m going to break-off this PROS section into four individual sections, focusing on the aspects of Drive that I loved the most – the story, the acting, the cinematography, and the music.
The Story: Man, if that opening scene doesn’t immediately hook you, then my suggestion is to just stop watching the movie period – just get up and walk out of the theater, because chances are you aren’t going like the rest of it. Basically, this film is divided into two parts – the first half sets up who Driver is, what he does, and the relationships that will play significant roles in the second half, which is where the all of the gory violence takes place. What I liked about this setup is that the first half of the film essentially gives NO warning about the violence about to take place; it completely catches you off guard and hits you like a ton of bricks. You’d almost think you were watching two starkly different movies altogether.
Similar to Inception last year, this is a film that goes out of its way to not insult the intelligence of its audience. Everything that occurs in the film, from the relationships to the violence to the car chases – for the most part – are completely realistic. The dialogue seems real. The violence seems real. And not to spoil the opening scene, but I will just say this one tidbit: instead of taking the obvious clichéd route, Drive introduces the audience to a type of character I would have thought never existed: a getaway driver with a brain, and minus the penchant for destroying every car on the road. All that mixed together equals a recipe for a character driven action-drama with thrills at every turn.
EASILY Ryan Gosling’s best performance of his career (then again, there’s still The Ides of March at the end of the month) and he had barely 20 minutes worth of dialogue in the ENTIRE film! Okay, that may be an over-exaggeration, but it really felt that way. Besides, the focus on Ryan Gosling’s “Driver” wasn’t necessarily on the dialogue, but on the body language and the way he just morphed into this semi-weird guy who’s real talent lies behind the wheel of a car. I can already tell right now that his performance, like the film overall, is something that’s going to polarize a lot of people – either you (like me) loved the eccentricity and just pure “badass-ness” (there’s that word again) of the character, or you hated his creepiness and the awkward silences that would seem to occur every 30 seconds.
Besides Gosling, my other favorite performance was that of – that’s right – ALBERT BROOKS as the mobster Bernie Rose. I think, however, that my favorite aspect about the character – other than the fact that he was being played by THE Hank Scorpio – was that it didn’t conform to the normal stereotypes of the film gangster. If you’re expecting Brooks to speak in a hokey Italian accent, eat home-cooked spaghetti and meatballs, wear an expensive suit, and shoot everything that moves, then you’re watching the wrong movie (and have PROBABLY watched too many gangster films). In fact, Brooks originally took the role (against type, I might add) BECAUSE of the fact that Bernie Rose is not your typical gangster. I remember first hearing about Albert Brooks in Drive and thinking, “he’s playing a GANGSTER?? This I gotta see!” That news truly caught me off-guard, but Brooks does such a great job here that it almost makes you forget that this is the same guy that voiced Marlin the Clownfish in Finding Nemo. Almost.
Other characters I enjoyed were Carey Mulligan as Driver’s neighbor, who equally eccentric character creates some great on-screen chemistry with Gosling, Ron Perlman as Mino, Bernie’s business partner, who’s performance makes you completely forget that he had a role in the awfulConan the Barbarian remake (well, not completely…I did just remember, didn’t I?), Bryan Cranston as Shannon, Driver’s only confidant, and Christina Hendricks (a.k.a. “Mrs. DiFolco”) in her small role as Blanche, an associate of one of Driver’s “clients.” But overall, the acting in Driveis some of the best I’ve seen all year, along with Midnight in Paris.
From the opening credits, with “Nightcall” playing in the background and the pink font reminiscent of Risky Business, to the increasingly graphic violence as the story progresses, to the very noir-ish story and background images, Drive is an interesting mixture of nostalgia and realism; of melancholy and aggression, idealism and bloodshed – and it (surprisingly) works! There’s a couple of scenes in particular that still stick out in my mind – first, it’s the shot through the windshield of the car during the opening credits, showing Gosling driving down the road at night. To me, it was eerily evocative of a similar shot in another one of my favorite movies – Taxi Driver (which, coincidentally enough, ALSO stars Albert Brooks a.k.a. Brad Goodman). The night driving scenes in BOTH films, in my opinion, are some of the most fascinating scenes for the simple fact that it says so much about what each film is about, while showing practically nothing. Taxi Driver’s night driving scenes represent Travis Bickle’s belief that the scum of the earth come out at night, while in Drive, the similar night driving scenes represent not only the eerily relaxing and welcome solitude of Driver, but it showcases his comfort zone, the place where his talent cannot be matched – behind the wheel.
The other scene that sticks out is a scene near the middle of the film, where Driver is alone in his apartment, building (what looks to be) a model boat or submarine, while the noise of the party at the neighbor’s echoes through the walls. Here, cinematographer Newton Thomas Segel uses the dark, shadowy lighting (very film noir-ish) to evoke the loneliness of the moment. Overall, though, the style of the film puts the audience in a world that, while it looks familiar, has a certain freshness to it.
As if I haven’t put it over enough already, the Drive soundtrack can be described in one word: amazing. “Nightcall” is currently playing on my iTunes right now as I type this…on repeat, I might add. It’s officially my new night-driving anthem. Seriously though, whoever chose the songs for this movie has to be some sort of genius or something, because not only are the songs incredibly perfect fits for the film (playing at exactly the right moments), but they are hardcore ear worms that you’ll all of a sudden find yourself humming at 1:00 in the afternoon at work.
Now granted, I do have a thing for euro/sync pop as well as dance and electronic music in general, having become attached to it after I started club-hopping with my friends. But even if I didn’t care for that genre of music, I still feel that I would have as hard a time getting that song out of my head as I do now. It’s rare, in my opinion, that the music of a film meshes perfectly with what is occurring on-screen. Drive’s music flawlessly catches the atmosphere of the moment, as well as creating songs you just can’t stop listening to over…and over…and over.
The Cons: For all the praise that I have just levied upon Drive, I did have a tiny issue with it.
What is it, you ask? It’s the relationship between Driver and his neighbor, Irene. Now granted, I felt that they had incredible chemistry together, but for some reason, I didn’t find the relationship to be all that realistic. Maybe it was the awkward silences between conversation topics (which, in real life, would have gotten a “what the fuck is wrong with you?” type of response); or it could have been just the way the entire relationship is portrayed on the surface – cold and uneventful. I guess the film was trying to show that, despite the eccentricities of both people, they have some sort of deep connection to each other that isn’t necessarily visible to a “normal” (a.k.a. the audience). At least that’s how I saw it. Other than that little oversight, I, personally, found nothing wrong with this film.
Conclusion: As I mentioned before, Drive is going to be one of those movies that completely polarizes and splits its viewers in half, between those that laud the movie as one of (if not THE) best film of the year, and those who think it sucks more than Shark Night 3-D. Either way, it will manage to get SOME sort of response out of everyone who sees it. As evidenced by what you just read, I belong to the former; I don’t think I’ve had this much fun at the movies since seeing Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 3-D. Obviously, it was the 3-D gimmick that got Transformers over for me. But this time, it wasn’t just some gimmicky 3-D or CGI (which, for the record, this film has NONE of) that made me enjoy the film. Rather, it was the story, the characters, the acting, the music, and the cinematography (or in other words, the whole package) that gave me of the best movie-going experiences of the year…so far. I cannot recommend this film enough; you’ll be talking about it for DAYS afterward, guaranteed! Recommended for Adults and Mature Teens.
Nicolas Winding Refn
2011 • 100 Minutes • 2.35:1 • United States
Color • English • FilmDistrict
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston