By Scott Martin
Drive, USA, 2011
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
If you watch Drive on a superficial level, you get a bad-ass action film – a slow burning, tightly paced one, at that – but if you watch it from a critical standpoint, you’ll notice more than one polite tip of the hat to Taxi Driver (1976), slight turns from Martin Scorsese’s directorial play-book by director Nicolas Winding Refn. Really, Drive could be viewed as a pastiche of action movies and westerns from the glory days of Hollywood in the 70’s and 80’s era.
Ryan Gosling has a skill for determining the darker aspects of characters that appear to be a little blank on paper. In 2001, he played a self-hating neo-Nazi Jew in Henry Bean’s The Believer; in 2010, he was a failing husband in Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine (I really hope you all saw that); and here, he’s the wheel-man with no name. He goes by “the kid,” and that’s barely a term of endearment from the man who took him in. He has a hell of a job: he’s a stunt driver for the movies by day, and a getaway driver at night. Of course, he’s freelance all the way. When a producer needs a flawless car crash, he’s the guy, and when a mob king needs a flawless getaway, there’s nobody better. He works with a man named Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who gave him a job years before the movie (and the kid’s criminal activity) started.
He lives on his own, like any self-preserving young criminal might, but to search his psyche is to destroy the character. He’s the ultimate anti-hero, the bad guy going good. Recall Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy: good, bad, ugly, complete with a fistful of dynamite for only a few dollars more. Our story comes to a slow boil about halfway through the film, when the kid’s beautiful neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), takes a shine to him and lets him into her life, slowly but surely, and he gets attached to her son, Benicio (Kaden Leos). The boy’s father, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is released from prison and contracted for the famous “one last job” to pay off a debt. The kid agrees to be the getaway guy and get Standard out of debt so he can be the father he needs to be.
This isn’t the film you might think it would be based on the trailer. I know people who went in expecting another Gone in 60 Seconds retread and left disappointed because they were given something a bit slower and more thoughtful. It seems that some audiences these days just want explosions and gunfights. Well, here’s a tip: this film is ultra-violent, without a single explosion and only one very brief gunfight. What little action there is takes place in the last 45 minutes of the film, during which it doesn’t slow down at all. Once the whole thing goes to hell, it sets up to roost there. Albert Brooks, who steals the movie with his cold as ice portrayal of movie producer turned mob boss Bernie Rose, is the only fire in the film. Brooks is a veteran comedian, but he plays this role with the assurance of a man who has something to prove. It is among the best work of his career. Oscar? I hope so.
I’d lovingly call this one of the biggest sleepers of the year. Hopefully it will garner the cult following that director Nicolas Winding Refn deserves, as his film Bronson (2008) seemed to. Will it be a contender for the Oscars outside of Brooks’s performance? Yes, it will. I expect big things, and we’re approaching that time of year already. If you haven’t heard of the film yet, then you will by the end of the year. I don’t normally go out of my way to say this in a review, but if you’re a film lover, go out of your way to see this film. I doubt there will be another one like it anytime soon.
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com