Drive is a “love-it-or-hate-it” kind of movie, fortunately though I love it enough for several theaters full of those that full into the latter category. It’s admittedly mismarketed, and its art house sensibilities along with its strong emphasis on style is going to push plenty away expecting a more traditional thriller. However for those of us on the nerdier side of the film fence, “Drive” is the film equivalent of taking LSD, it’s simply a dream. The movie tells us the story of our “Hero Without A Name” Driver (Gosling), a Hollywood stunt driver by day and a getaway driver by night. Despite his best efforts with his zero attachment approach to his clients, the Driver ends up neck-deep with the West Coast mob after letting his emotional guard down for his down-the-hall neighbor. 2011’s been a tremendous year for ensemble casts, but as far as across-the-board quality goes, Drive easily takes the prize. Ron Perlman growls in a fantastic performance as an amateur mobster who has little idea what he’s doing alongside Albert Brooks who turns in one of the best, sure-fire Oscar contending performances of the season. Brooks nails the balance between seemingly innocent/friendly and at many times unpredictably sadistic and violent as well as intimidating like no other cinematic villain this year. Carey Mulligan and Christina Hendricks have solid, if not small parts in the film, and even Oscar Isaac joins in the fun with a surprisingly pleasant performance. Acting treasure Bryan Cranston steals every scene as Driver’s mentor, acting in sense as the film’s “Yoda”. Drive’s lead, Ryan Gosling, is one of the strongest reasons to see the film. Even though Driver is a man of few words, Gosling manages to bring a persona to him in both the calm but mysterious dialogue and his indeterminable silences is brilliant to see. Nicolas Refn, a foreign filmmaker with little American film experience aside from a few smaller action pictures similar to Drive, brings a totally unexpected yet phenomenal vibe of action to Drive. Although there’s probably only about 20-25 minutes of actual driving in the film, what driving there is in the film might just spoil you from standard action and suspense films. The movie opens with an incredible opener of a chase scene that perfectly introduces us to everything about Driver and what he does and how he does it. The action beats of the film are simply perfect; perfectly shot, perfectly paced, perfectly thrilling when they need to be and perfectly subtle in the next, and they’ll leave you breathless. Driver has a lot of vehicles at his disposal, and he puts them all to good use, depending on the job. Almost like a skilled marksman with an arsenal of firearms, Driver picks the right car, new or old, supped up or subtle, depending on what his client needs him to do. Drive also takes a meticulous and often hard-hitting, frantic stance on action sequences. In a very Tarantino-esque way, a lot of Drive’s action and violence comes out of nowhere and is often brutally, unflinchingly violent but never ceases to be thrilling. During one of the film’s biggest beats 1/2 way through I was practically in the floor in anticipation as if I was actually in the getaway car with Driver and his customer. Drive’s action sequences never shy away from being fast, appropriately furious, and when the situation calls for it and the audience least expects it, viciously violent. It finds a way to lull you back into that false state of security every time right before startling you with a huge action set piece or sudden attack. The film also takes advantage of this by using it to build its suspense more and more in seemingly mundane scenes; by the time the film’s over you’ve learned how this film treats silence: as target practice. There’s also a now infamous scene in an elevator that’s one of the most brutal and genius of the entire year. Refn also uses Drive’s slower pace and careful exposition to make it that much more suspenseful and the gruesome violence that much more effectively surprising and haunting. Sometimes you can feel the unease coming a mile away, other times it comes out of nowhere, other times its out of nowhere, but its always suspenseful and always effective. Unlike many other conventional action films, Refn brings “Drive” a tremendous sense of style. Also very similar to Tarantino and even Scorsese, Refn instills these long shots in the film shared by two characters where there’s little to no dialogue, instead it’s often just shared looks or facial expressions. Most of the time these are between Driver and his newfound love interest, played by Carey Mulligan. In any other film it’d be dry and even boring, but I’d be lying if I said Refn didn’t find a way to make it captivating. Driver is a naturally solemn and quiet character, he’s a mysterious, strong and even intelligent guy that lives by his set code and never gets to close to any of his clients. He’s naturally good at driving, and he’s extremely capable at that, but it’s thanks to Gosling phenomenal performance that you can visibly see in Driver’s face and actions that there are several instances in the movie that he has absolutely no idea what he’s doing, that and he’s often clearly in over his head here. Refn finds a way to beautifully tap into these subtle mannerisms and actions as a way of delivering profound exposition even in other characters, even though Gosling is the movie’s “Quiet Mouse King”. Instead of being explicitly told Driver and Irene have entered a sexual relationship, we see them hold hands for the first time, leaving the rest to be inferred by us as an audience. Instead of drawn out monologues where other directors would employ hammy explanation and heavy-handed clarification, we’re treated to glances, scowls and quick gestures, leaving much of the film an open interpretation. The dialogue we do get (mainly from the chatty Brooks and Cranston) is still superbly scripted and executed, all beautifully complimented by a gorgeous score by Cliff Martinez and a phenomenal set of 80s nostalgic songs that overlay the silent exposition in both tone and meaning, the meaning of both the song and film overlapping obviously yet efficiently. Also admirable is the simple fact that the film looks outstanding itself in terms of the color and shots going on in any given frame. The opening cinematic of a revolutionary car chase at the start of the film defies standards by never allowing the camera to leave the car, allowing that natural suspense to build even more, higher and higher. There’s also a beautifully framed, trademark shot involving a bullet and hammer that has some of the best staging and use of color I’ve ever seen, and it just so happens to be one of the film’s most violent, hardest-to-watch moments. It’s a beautiful thing Refn accomplishes in that you can appreciate it for its art and its muscle. The way Refn relies on his vibrant color palette of greens, purples, and reds along with the way he dresses his characters in these classical, noir-style jackets and dresses in their traditional dialogue and the previously mentioned musical choices he essentially creates a John Hughes take on a Fast and Furious sequel mixed with a modern day superhero story. “Drive” won’t work for everybody, but it definitely works for me. Each of the performances is top-notch, the action is unbelievably conceived and undeniably entertaining, and it’s all coated in a sleek, dazzling coat of paint. Drive is by far my favorite film of the year, it’s a film that’s easy to love, and it’s a film that’s a film nerd or action lover’s dream. If you’re both, well, then that just sweetens the pot. It’s the car that looks great on the outside and even looks great under the hood. Drive succeeds as an art film, it succeeds as a high-octane action piece, and it definitely succeeds at being one of the best times your local cinema has to offer.
5 out of 5
“50/50” isn’t a movie about cancer. “50/50” isn’t a film about a bromance or how a family rallies together in the end despite their differences. Instead, “50/50” takes on the concept of how normal people react, whether positively or negatively, to one of the most tragic diseases of our time affecting someone with their entire life ahead of them. The movie comes from the perspective of Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a 27-year-old radio journalist who is slammed with the reality that he has a very serious type of cancer, a cancer with a slim 50% survival rate. But the film isn’t just about him; it also puts a great deal of emphasis on those that surround him. This includes his stoner/slacker best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) who shows Adam the many ways he can “take advantage” of his disease, his “supportive” girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard who has the burden of taking care of Adam thrown upon her, as well as his delightfully naïve psychiatrist (Anna Kendrick). Against his will, this also includes his “overbearing” mother (Angelica Huston) who already faces the task of taking care of her husband (Serge Houde). “50/50” is done a lot of favors by its exceptionally strong cast, led in part by Joseph Gordon Levitt, who carries a lot of the drama mainly centered around his character with ease, and has enough charisma, wit, and utter likability to help the film balance out the film’s constant juggling act of comedy and sorrow. Unconverted Seth Rogen fans won’t find much to like here, as he’s still essentially himself, but to someone like myself that’s never really grown tired of his shtick, he’s still a hilarious addition to the mix. As far as other note-worthy performances go, Bryce Dallas Howard has a pretty standard part, Anna Kendrick makes the film considerably more adorable every frame she’s in, and both Matt Frewer and Phillip Baker Hall have small, yet phenomenal parts in the film as Adam’s much older chemotherapy partners. Where “50/50” really finds its strength is how it manages to earn its humor and laughs throughout the film. The movie never flinches or backs down in its portrayal of the terrible disease its protagonist is suffering from. Almost like a slingshot there are these hilarious moments where Kyle is teaching Adam how to get girls out of sympathy for his cancer or introducing him to the world of medicinal marijuana, and then it springs back to how much this disease has uprooted his life and the lives of those around him, along with those very real consequences. There are several scenes where it’s almost overwhelming how desperate and one-sided this struggle has become, and it’s obviously where the movie finds its most dramatic moments and the best times to get the tears going. It’s not even as much of a spoiler to say you don’t know Adam’s fate (being 50/50) until the film’s last few minutes. However, in truly miraculous fashion almost against the odds defying the fear and sadness, “50/50” uses these same moments for some of its best comedic moments. “50/50” takes advantage of your lack of hope and vulnerability to fear and brings you to guttural, hysteric laughter because it recognizes how much we want and need to laugh in that kind of situation. There’s a beautiful moment towards the end of the film where Adam finally has to confront the “now or never” moment of his disease. Where other films would be crippling you with sadness, a clichéd inspirational song and a corny monologue explaining how “everything’s going to work out”, “50/50” reminded me of the harsh and very relatable reality of it all, and then somehow gets you to laugh along with it. I found myself laughing hysterically while still wiping tears away from my eyes; it was one of the most profound and touching movie-going experiences of my life. By the end of the film when it’s finally revealed how each character has met the challenge of Adam’s cancer, you gain an incredible understanding of each character and what the whole movie’s been about. “50/50” is a very special film; it recognizes the inherent fear and cruel, unsympathetic reality of cancer and it reminds you of that reality sporadically throughout the movie. However, instead of wallowing in the sadness, it does the impossible, and makes you laugh at the cancer and at the fear of it all. It’s a poignant triumph of humor over death, comedy over sadness; it’s one of the funniest films of the year but also one of the most emotionally resonant and powerful I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, all complimented by it’s fantastic cast and of course a healthy, if not at times raunchy, sense of humor. If anything else, “50/50” is worth seeing on the merit alone that it finally allows you to call a “cancer movie” hilarious.
50 out of 50/5 out of 5