Drive Review

October 18, 2011 at 11:04 pm (Movies)

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

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