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.