Every time I sit down and think about writing a Drive review, all I see are the cringe-worthy moments, and those moments stand out. But I liked Drive, even if I still have a hard time understanding why.
Drive will get people in the seats because of Ryan Gosling, but it won’t be for everyone. It’s a slow-burn movie that’s spliced with scenes of jarring violence that will turn off some. Plus, Ryan Gosling alone won’t be enough for others to like this film, as his performance is unnervingly calm throughout. Until the violent moments, that is.
A lot of critics love director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Valhalla Rising). He does cinematically interesting things, and all of his films are long and slow in their narrative, with interludes of gory violence that are supposed to break up the monotony. You’ll see a lot of moments where characters stare off into space at nothing with what looks like deep contemplation on their faces. Sometimes it will be a warranted introspection, but usually not.
Refn’s critical acclaim will generate a lot of very positive reviews of Drive, and the film is already earning rave reviews from the festival circuit. There might not be much of a mainstream audience for this movie, but there will be a strong audience for it.
On the road again…
Drive is based off a book of the same name by James Sallis, and if you’re interested in trivia, you might like knowing that Drive is Refn’s first movie based off of a novel, and with a script that wasn’t written by him.
It follows Ryan Gosling as the aptly named Driver, a Hollywood stunt-driver and mechanic working for Shannon (Bryan Cranston), the a middle man who gets him jobs as a wheelman for criminals. You might hear some comparisons between Gosling’s Driver and Jason Statham’s Frank Martin from The Transporter series, and while the plots are very loosely similar and the characters both have “rules,” these movies are not alike. Don’t listen to someone who compares this film to The Transporter. Ever.
After one of his jobs, Driver discovers that he has a new neighbor in his apartment building, Irene (Carey Mulligan), who has just moved in with her son Benicio. Gosling starts a relationship with her before finding out that she has a husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), who is in prison. When Standard gets out, he is threatened by men who he owes protection money to, stemming from his time in jail. Driver agrees to help him to keep Irene and Benicio safe.
The crime goes badly, and Driver has a hit put out on him by Nino — played by a greasy Ron Perlman — who is partners with smooth crime boss Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks). In response, Driver goes on a series of revenge hits of his own — revenge hits that are disgustingly violent. Trust me, there’s a moment in an elevator and another in an Italian restaurant run by Perlman that will make you cringe.
Supporting roles make the movie
Ostensibly, this film is about Gosling’s Driver and his relationship with Irene. The problem with this is that Gosling is infuriatingly calm. He rarely shows emotion and has a lot of scenes where he just seems to be staring off into space. It bothered me, but I know that it won’t annoy everyone. His performance does add contrast when he starts his revenge journey.
Irene mostly disappears in the third act, which almost makes the whole point of Driver killing people a waste of time and human lives. Still, her presence is barely felt in the first two acts, and she is mostly a blank to begin with. Refn is a decent director of men, but the women in his roles (there aren’t any really in Valhalla Rising and only a few in Bronson) seem to drift in and out his movies as excuses for plot movement, not roles with depth or humanity.
Albert Brooks is the star, though. He really chews into the role of Bernie Rose. Even when he speaks in a friendly, genteel manner, there is a layer of menace under his voice. Despite that, you think he’s kind of the hands-off mob boss who doesn’t get his hands dirty. In the third act, he does get down in the muck, and it’s glorious and terrifying to witness. I would honestly recommend this movie on Brooks’ performance alone.
Drive moves between long calms and short, extreme moments of violence that are either gritty or very artistic. It is a Nicolas Wending Refn movie in tone and view. The problem is that the violence and the supporting characters overshadow the main relationship between Irene and Driver. I’ve harped on it this whole review, but I firmly believe that the violence and the way it’s employed in this movie will push some audiences away. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be people who don’t mind the brutality, but it will be hard for some to swallow.
I liked Drive, but it’s hard to really find a particular reason why. The more I think about it, the more I’m reminded that Albert Brooks is the best part of this movie. It’s too bad he’s not the focus of the whole film. If you are on the fence and looking for a reason to check out Drive, see it for Brooks’ performance. It is some rich acting from the normally comedic actor.
[Drive is rated R, with a running time of 100 minutes]