Drive (Review)

DRIVE (9/13/11; Thriller)
Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks
SCR: Hossein Amini; based on the book by James Sallis
DIR: Nicholas Winding Refn
MPAA: Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity.
1 hour 40 mins

Gosling is a Hollywood stunt driver by day and getaway driver by night. He doesn’t speak much, nobody calls him by name and his existence is a spartan one.

The Driver is a cipher, a blank slate that hides, one presumes, a former life that led him here: Los Angeles, working in an auto shop for kindly Shannon (Cranston), a guy who has made one too many bad deals with the wrong types of people and walks with a permanent limp because of it.

One day, the driver meets his comely neighbor, Irene (Mulligan), and her wise-beyond-his-years young son. Turns out the kid’s dad is in jail, and is getting out soon. But what of the burgeoning relationship forming between her and the driver?

Certainly, this spells trouble but it’s never as simple as it sounds like it will be. I would never dream of spoiling the details of this contemporary LA noir flick but I’ll elaborate on a few things worth mentioning, such as the inspired casting. Who knew Albert Brooks had it in him to be this imposing and lethal? He’s well-paired with Perlman, who plays a “west coast” goombah with something to prove.

Refn also directed the Kubrick-esque tour-de-force Bronson (2009), a movie that featured a hellzapoppin’ performance from Tom Hardy. For his follow up, Refn seems to be channeling 1980s-era Michael Mann, in particular, Manhunter (1986), and steers Gosling through this human maze of destruction with as much minimalism as Bronson was flashy.

It’s a stunning directorial choice, layering his beautifully-composed widescreen visuals with sheets of moody synthesizers – not the first time we’ve seen this technique, but it’s been a while since anyone has used it this effectively. The opening sequence, which takes place in the aftermath of a heist, is a master class in editing and timing.

And although some critics (and audiences) have taken exception with Refn’s use of deliberate (slow) pacing, tension-inducing electropop soundtrack and explosive violence, I think the combination is hypnotic, if not damn near perfect.

What most directors don’t understand is that without coil, there is no satisfaction in the release. Drive slowly builds to the point of measured hysteria just under the surface. When Gosling walks into a strip club dressing room and tightens his grip on a hammer, it’s more explosive than a hailstorm of bullets.

We get all the information needed in the margins and what’s not explicitly stated grows in our minds and fills in the blanks. Refn won the Best Director award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, but the movie received little traction when released wide.

That’s probably just as well. If it was a huge hit, Hollywood studios would churn out an assembly line of slick, moody copycats but likely miss the point entirely.


Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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