They Finally Made A Movie Out Of That Cars Song? Don't be an idiot.
So Drive Is... The best movie Michael Mann never made.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four-and-a-half straight razors out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Taciturn wheelman comes to the aid of cute neighbor, lots of people die.
Tagline: "There are no clean getaways."
Better Tagline: "Unless you're robbing a car wash."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The mysterious Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a Hollywood stunt driver by day, hired wheelman for the odd heist at night. His only rule: He'll drive you anywhere for five minutes, but before or after that you're on your own. After befriending his waitress neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son, he agrees to help her recently paroled husband pay off a mob debt. Things naturally go awry, setting Driver up for a showdown with the local capo (Albert Brooks).
"Critical" Analysis: Not to put too fine a point on it, but Drive is easily one of the best movies of 2011.
The story -- essentially the Man With No Name meets Bullitt -- is a throwback to both classic film noir and the fiercely stylized crime dramas of the '80s. I need to check my VHS copy of To Live and Die in L.A., because I'd swear the opening titles use the same color and font as those of William Friedkin's cruelly underrated film. The plot, really no more than what was detailed above, is simplicity itself: the enigmatic loner reluctantly pulled out of his comfort zone for the woman he loves.
But Drive's strength has less to do with the story than with what director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson) doesn't show us. Shots are held for what will seem to modern audiences like an excruciatingly long time, amplifying the tension in remarkable ways. This is evident from the first sequence, as Driver patiently waits for two warehouse burglars to finish up, sirens drawing nearer in the background. And Refn utilizes this throughout the film, creating tension in something as innocuous as a conversation with a little boy, or a kiss in an elevator.
That's called "suspense," folks, to be differentiated from a "jump scare," where the soundtrack crashes loudly to coincide with the monster jumping out of a closet. That's a cheap gimmick and fades from memory as soon as the next nubile victim is trotted on screen. The unease in Drive lingers throughout the film. You know things are going tits up sooner or later.
And when they finally do, you'll jump in your seat just like in that monster movie.
Who is Driver? Where did he come from? He tells Irene he arrived in town "a while ago," around the same time he showed up at Shannon's (a wonderful Bryan Cranston) garage looking for a job. Ultimately, we don't know, and we really don't care. The refreshing lack of backstory only adds to the atmosphere of uncertainty. Contrast that with your average Michael Bay-type actioner, where the good guy is inevitably a former Army Ranger or Special Forces badass (which Driver may very well be, though I go into my own theory below), which renders the resulting carnage depressingly predictable.
Which isn't to say there's no carnage in Drive. The film is punctuated with often shocking violence, and if I have one complaint about the film, it's the way the almost cartoonish gore threatens to yank the audience out of the experience. Refn may have intended this as a release from the tension, but I'd argue the movie would be more effective with less.
Much credit to Gosling, who I've never been that keen on but who depicts Driver's duality admirably well. Coldly efficient on the job and coolly detached in normal life, he's also capable of tender affection (with Irene and her son) and barely suppressed fury (hunting those who double-crossed him). I hate the expression "bravura performance," but nothing else really fits.
As to my aforementioned theory, highlight for spoilery goodness:
[SPOILER]I believe Driver might be immortal, though he can be wounded. By all rights, he should be dead or gravely wounded at the end of the movie, and appears so in a protracted close up, before suddenly coming around and driving off. It explains why he's such an accomplished stunt driver (no fear of death). He approaches human with indifference, except for Irene (the name's derived from the Greek eiréné, meaning "peace") because she represents the serenity he can never find.
Or maybe he's just an ex-Navy SEAL. But that would be kinda boring.[END SPOILER]
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I really can't recommend Drive highly enough. It's so refreshing to have an honest-to-Bogart thriller that respects its audience's intelligence and rewards it with a theatrical experience that will stay with you for a long time.
See It/Rent It/Skip It: See it. How often do you get the chance to enjoy movies geared towards adults (that aren't "adult movies") these days?
Drive is in theaters today. Get your ass to one and check it out.