Tuesday, October 18, 2011


The best word to describe Drive might be "specific". It is very specific in its style and the tone it tries to create, and you have to have a very specific mindset to enjoy it appropriately. Because despite what you might assume based on the trailers, it is very much not a typical thriller or car chase movie. I would call it moody and intense before I'd call it exciting, and I would say it's much more plainly violent than action-packed. Tension is built through the careful application of suspense, of waiting for something terrible to happen until it finally does, rather than with fast editing and big special effects. There are all of two scenes in the film that could be called legitimate car chases, and only a brief third one that I would really call action at all. The scenes are masterfully done, telling you a lot about the main character and delivering moments that really quicken the heart-rate, but that's about as far as it goes on that direction. The rest of the movie is more of a character study, broken up by flashes of brutality that let you in on how badly the driver's world gets turned upside down when he steps outside his normal routine.

That driver is played just about perfectly in my opinion by Ryan Gosling, who portrays a nameless, quiet young man who hides his capacity for ruthless self-preservation under a calm, if slightly disquieting demeanor. Gosling, his costar Carey Mulligan, and director Nicolas Winding Refn spent a lot of time trimming out dialogue where they thought the film didn't need it, and the lack of speech is a big part of the creation of the character. He doesn't say much unless he has to, and even then his sentences are as short as possible. It makes him seem unusual, almost like he might have some sort of slight social disorder that prevents him from being normal. It's most pronounced in his scenes with Mulligan, a neighbor with a young son and a husband in prison that he develops feelings for, who also doesn't talk much, making their relationship a very simple and sweet one. Some people have said that Gosling is just too pretty to pull off a tough guy role, but I think his looks actually benefit the character. They help explain why someone might find him charming and attractive even though his conversations consist of little more than a few words and a smile, and they also make the revelation of his darker side more stark and surprising. The rest of the cast supports him very well, most notable Bryan Cranston as his talkative mentor and Albert Brooks as a gangster who's menacing in just how indirect the threats he makes are.

I haven't said much of anything regarding what the movie is actually about. It's pretty simple, really - Gosling does stunts for movies and works in a garage by day, and occasionally works as a getaway driver for crooks at night. He gets involved with a job that goes bad, and failing to extricate himself and his new friends from danger peacefully, is forced to resort to much harsher means of protecting them. It's a basic crime movie plot, which succeeds in driving the action without getting in the way of Refn's direction, which is what made me truly love the film. The film is dripping with style, from the expertly crafted moments of violence to the uniquely slow paced character moments to the memorable way they shoot LA at night to the singularly memorable soundtrack, which features songs that sound like they were produced 25 years ago but match perfectly with the character's identity. Drive is a movie where I can see why a lot of people would not respond well to it, and I can only feel sorry that they aren't able to enjoy a movie that's not quite what they expected. It's so sure of itself in every aspect, and so mesmerizing to watch that even tiny moments that don't completely work are easily forgiven. It's one of the best movies I've ever seen in a theater. That's a significant caveat, but one that shouldn't detract from the message that I thought the film was brilliant, and it's still in my head a couple days after seeing it.

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