Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn) 2011

Ryan Gosling is the Driver, a Hollywood stunt man who moonlights as a getaway driver for anyone who is willing to pay his fee.  He gets involved with a woman who lives on the same floor of his apartment (played by Carey Mulligan).  Driver tries to help Irene (Mulligan) and by driving her boyfriend on a job.  This is because he is stuck paying a debt for a local mobster.  The job goes bad and the mobsters are hunting for the Driver.

I recently did a review for Contagion in which I stated my biggest positive remark was the fact the director did not fuck the movie up.  By that I mean there was no crappy dialog, there was no stupid twist ending (which in Hollywood is now a standard ending) and no contrived plot devices.  Sometimes the best twist is no twist at all, and sometimes a simple but well cooked burger is more appealing than an overly complicated dish at a fancy restaurant.  The same sort of thinking applies to Drive.  Drive is a simple story/concept but it is done so well that you don’t care.

What do I mean by not screwing things up?  For starters let’s talk about the driving. You have no idea how freaking happy it makes me that there are actual cars and actual driving in this movie.  Compare this to the awful Fast and the Furious franchise which has CGI cars which look so cheap and awful it feels like I am watching a PS2 game.  Nothing takes me out of those movies faster than seeing the actors and knowing they are surrounded by green screens.

Another thing which sells the movie is bringing in good actors.  I feel stupid for typing it because it should be one of those DUH things but I guess I have to bring it up.  In a movie where characters and plot are kind of put on the back burner, it is nice to have people with personality instead of cardboard stand ups like Paul Walker and Jessica Alba.  It is something when Gosling can say more with a few subtle looks than someone else could with some fakey badass lines fed to him.  You also have good character actors rounding out the supporting cast like Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman.  The big surprise is Albert Brooks who is usually a comic actor but here gives a great villain you gives a real sense of menace.  Now I will say the dialog is sparse in this movie which can sometimes make scenes a little awkward; especially the romantic scenes between Gosling and Mulligan.  But again, I would rather have too few words spoken well rather than extremly cliche and hammy dialog coming from crap actors.

There are a few films this reminds me of.  First is of a movie last year called The American starring George Clooney but the style of the film more resembles an 80’s movie called To Live and Die in LA.  And if you haven’t seen that movie; do it.  This is not a film which has wall to wall action but builds things up and has some shocking flashes here and there.  The opening scene does a very good job of setting up the tone of the movie for the audience.  Here Driver is on one of his jobs as a getaway driver.  At first he is trying to elude them by being in a common vehicle and trying to outmaneuver the cops by hearing them on a police scanner.  There are times when he has to go fast and do some fancy driving when a police helicopter spots them or a police car gets a possible sighting but the tension comes from the cat and mouse game and not necessarily the car chases.  You feel more tension by the fact he is trying to sneak past several squad cars rather than in car crashes and whatnot.

Refn does a great job with the tone of the movie.  He can lull you into an enjoyable romance and at a moments notice snap you back with an extremely graphic scene.  The music and the 80’s feel of it recalls those recolections of To Live and Die in LA or a less than great comparison by saying its GTA Vice City if you made it into an art house film.  Refn establishes the characters and makes you care about them which in turn makes you care more about the action which happens later on in the film.

Drive is not a perfect film.  As I mentioned sometimes the dialog is too sparse which makes some scenes‘ pacing stunted and awkward and sometimes the pacing is a tad slow.  But that being said, I found Drive very enjoyable.  The acting is very good, the action is well done, and the direction is great is establishing a good tone and crafting a solid story throughout.  It does everything so well it moves beyond a simple genre piece into a thoroughly enjoyable film.



3 Responses to “Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn) 2011”

  1. Sorry Moses, can’t be with you on this one. You’ve said quite a bit about aesthetics and staging, which I agree are good, but I feel that the simplicity of the story is a negative factor in that TOO much is made sparse.

    I would like to think that Gosling’s character has a past, given how well he dispatches several guys with brutal violence, but the film is ambiguous about this and also suggests this is all very new to him. At the very least, the fable of the scorpion and the frog should have been played up more to give at least a definitive sense on who Gosling’s character is and what exactly he is trying to gain.

    • A story is just one part of a film and sometimes is not that necessary. A recent movie I just saw and will probably be reviewing is The Trip. If I were boiling down the “plot” to you it would be Steve Coogan goes on a restaurant tour with his friend. There is no story arc or villain or main conflict and what happens could be fit on a cocktail napkin. The story is not what matters though as this is an absolutely hilarious movie. The focus is on the humor and on the interaction between the characters. And even though nothing happens in this movie, it is through the interactions with the characters we learn about Coogan and what is going on in his mind. Or, take The Crow for another example. On the surface there is not much in that movie that is different from the thousands of other revenge movies made. We learn bare minimum about the characters. For example, Eric Draven is a rocker who has his lover raped and killed. Not much characterization there. The plot is overly simple too; Draven comes back to get revenge on the people who killed him and his lover. However, it is what the director does with this simple formula which makes the movie special. The acting is great even with such small characters, the art style practically inspired Hot Topic stores around the world, the music matched the personality of the movie, and a twist was added in making Eric a demonic spirit of vengeance. So in short it doesn’t necessarily matter if Drive’s plot is thin and we don’t learn much about Driver. In this case the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

      • Perhaps “story” was the wrong thing to criticize and more “character development” is what I’m thinking.

        I agree that not all stories need an elaborate plot or extensive character development. Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver is not a particularly deep character, but we get enough clues to his past to understand a bit of why he is how he is. Eric Draven is also not a very deep character, but I agree that we get enough development of who he is to know why he acts the way he does.

        In the case of Drive, there is enough that explains why he helps Standard but not enough to explain how Driver is able to dispatch several mobsters so effectively and creatively, such as curbstomping one guy’s head into oblivion. Stunt drivers are able to do dangerous things very well, sure, but murder is not a typical talent.

        My problem is not that there’s ambiguity about Driver’s past, but that there’s TOO much ambiguity–he could be an ex-professional killer himself (which is my guess because of his reference to the Scorpion and the Frog story and the fact that he’s constantly wearing that scorpion jacket) or he might be completely improvising this all as he goes. The movie wants to retain a sense of mystery about him that is unwarranted.

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