Drive Review


Drive occupies a totally unique space on the cinematic continuum, existing somewhere among Death Wish, Double Indemnity, Batman, and Miami Vice. However, it’s not the pulse-pounding, excitement-generating movie you might expect. It unfolds at a very slow pace, and the plot is kept to a minimum. The film instead relies on style to keep you interested, and luckily, director Nicolas Winding Refn has plenty of that to spare. You might not find yourself head-over-heels in love with this film, but admire it you almost certainly will.

Ryan Gosling plays an unnamed man who stunt drives for movies by day and serves as the getaway driver for criminals by night. He has only a few rules: He doesn’t carry a gun, and you have exactly five minutes to carry out your business. Anything goes down before or after those five minutes, and you’re on your own.

The driver is a quiet guy and doesn’t really have anyone in his life, but he takes a liking to his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), who’s husband is in prison and must now raise their son on her own. Quite suddenly, however, Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), comes home, though he’s far from out of trouble. He owes some bad guys quite a bit of money, and when they threaten Irene, the driver agrees to help him out. But shit hits the fan quickly, and if the driver is to survive the next few days, he’ll have to get his hands dirty.

Though Refn has totally perplexed me with his film, I do think his direction is the tops. To craft something so unusual is a courageous endeavor, and though I don’t think he’s successful on every front, he deserves all the praise in the world. Every shot in Drive is surprising and drips of an auteur’s vision. The way the film is edited always keeps us on our toes, and the musical choices (courtesy of composer Cliff Martinez, who also scored Contagion) are consistently unpredictable.

The acting is also top-notch. Ryan Gosling gives what’s probably my favorite performance of the year so far. The driver is like a superhero in the way he disposes of his enemies, but he’s also got a number of odd quirks that only an actor of Gosling’s caliber could pull off convincingly. For example, he takes forever when conversing with someone. Even the simplest question is met with a minimum of five seconds silence from him. While that’s not something that makes or breaks a film, it’s one of those details that elevates a performance and makes a character all the more memorable. The driver is full of little things like that, even though he doesn’t have much to say. There’s no way in hell Gosling will get the Academy’s attention (ditto for the film and Refn, as well as Carey Mulligan and Albert Brooks, who are both tremendous; It’s just not an Oscar movie at all).

The reason Drive doesn’t earn four stars, despite my absolute love over all the technical aspects of the film, is that I found it quite boring at times. I know that’s a harsh thing to say, especially about a film that ultimately I thought was great, but it drags for extended periods of time. The plot doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for a while, and even once the action picks up and we get a general idea of what’s to come, I can’t say I was enamored with the storyline or the general arc of the film. It’s a bit conventional, especially for a film that otherwise looks and feels so unconventional.

Then, there’s the violence, which I found excessive to say the least. I’m far from squeamish; Hell, I watched James Franco cut his arm off in 127 Hours without budging. But several moments in Drive repulsed me, and made me really question the necessity of it all. One scene in particular turned me off: When the driver finds himself stuck in an elevator with an enemy. Our “hero” doles out a punishment that’s extreme. Though I don’t think Refn’s point was to develop an emotional connection with the driver, you can’t help but do so, which makes a scene like this feel like a punch in the gut. Who is this guy that I’ve been rooting for all along? Conundrums like this help make the film so intellectually stimulating, but they also made me feel a bit icky.

Still, hours later, I don’t quite know what to make of Drive. I know I appreciated it, found it very stimulating on several levels. But I also know I didn’t enjoy myself all that much, and isn’t that the point of watching movies? I can’t in good conscience give the film any lower a grade than this because it’s put together in such a brilliant way, but I also know it likely won’t be among my favorite films of the year, and I definitely won’t be recommending it to many others.

All that said, this humble blogger now bows before Nicolas Winding Refn, and if I had to sit through a few excessively bloody beatings to discover just how talented he is, I’m happy I did so.

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