Drive Is Not As Advertised

2011 September 19

I would be one to wait until the weekend is over to review a film. Have fun either seeing this during the week or forgetting about my thoughts by next weekend and seeing Killer Elite instead.

Drive is not the Fast and Furious-esque action car movie it is portrayed as in most of its marketing. I was even a bit fooled despite reading up a bit on the film; I should have taken heed when I read an interview with Ryan Gosling where he said he wanted to make a “violent Pretty in Pink”. There are a few car chases, and they are shot extremely well without the ubiquitous  shaky-cam, but they are definitely not the focus, nor all that impressive as set-pieces (the first 10 minutes or so are brilliant stuff, though). What’s here is an 80s love story with the requisite soundtrack that turns into a slasher flick with Cronenberg-styled violence. I’ve seen that last point mentioned numerous times, but my friend said it exiting the theater; I’m taking that connection from him, not fellow amateur internet film critics.

This film is not for people who cannot stand silence. There are long pauses that I thought were a bit too much at times, where Gosling’s character (this is all I can refer to him as, since his name is never uttered) comes off too stilted. But I guess he’s so damn handsome that his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) can’t help but fall in love with him. It doesn’t hurt that he’s good with her kid and helps with the groceries, I guess. Oh, and that he’s a badass stunt driver and wears a sweet bomber jacket. What girl with a husband in prison wouldn’t die for a man like that? But obviously, once that husband is released from prison, all hell breaks loose.

The drawn-out silences and patient, long shots make the sudden and brutal violence in the film all that more shocking. There is a great scene where the violent nature under the shy and almost mute veneer of Gosling’s character is hinted at, and once he’s thrown into a situation where he needs to protect his cute neighbor and kid, it’s no-holds-barred retribution. The only previous Nicholas Winding Refn film I had seen was Bronson and that was pretty brutal, but I wasn’t expecting such explicit bursts of blood spatter in every way imaginable. That such violence occurs in what is otherwise an extremely slick and cool film could make it seem indulgent, but it works in the framework of the film. Once the switch in Driver (ok, I’ll just call him that now) is flicked, he turns into some Travis Bickle-type character; now this is the reading that I’ve stolen from other internet film nerds. And it’s not like the film doesn’t acknowledge how crazy the violence is — there’s one amazing scene in particular that cements Driver as a psychopath.

While the film is really all about Driver, the small supporting roles from Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston are both fantastic, and Carey Mulligan is perfect as the prototypical cute neighbor. I would have probably liked to see a bit more of the first two, but Drive is streamlined to a barebones plot where no scene is superfluous. So while some scenes might seem like they drag, there is nothing pointless in the 100-minute running time. There’s no backstory to Driver, the romance between Driver and Irene is set up through a few quiet scenes and a montage scored with a song straight of out the 80s (that’s a bit too cheesy for my taste), and the criminal associations in the film are relayed through brief conversations where there’s almost always something else going on.

Neither is a shot wasted (outside of one bizarre slow-motion, inside-the-car shot — you’ll know what I’m talking about). I’m glad I got to see the film in one of the big theaters in my local multiplex, because Refn, as @MilesTrahan put it, “can shoot the fuck out of a film.” The cinematography alone makes the film worth a watch, but when it’s combined with a character as memorable as Gosling’s despite his paucity of lines, a bunch of great supporting performances, unflinchingly awesome violence, and an atmospheric synthetic soundtrack, you’ve got one of the better films of the year — despite it going against mainstream expectations. Take a date if she can stomach seeing the life get stomped out of a guy’s face.

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