Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Drive

It's not often that a film, even a very good one, truly defies expectations. I hadn't actually seen a trailer for "Drive" but when you say it's about a professional stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway man for hire you expect lots of fast cuts, explosions, lazy quips, outrageous car chases, and a general lack of mental or emotional engagement. Now this sort of thing can be fun every now and again but that isn't "Drive." This aims to be something more. Something that surprises and engages you in ways you hadn't expected. Does it succeed? Most definitely.
The stunt driver in question (Ryan Gosling) is a soft spoken young man blessed with lightning fast reflexes, intelligence, and an ability to keep cool under pressure that seems to suggest there's no trace of daredevil in him, despite his occupation. The closest thing he has to a friend is his boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) and until a chance encounter at the grocery store he barely knows the young woman living across the hall in his apartment. The young woman in question is Irene (Carey Mulligan), a loving mother to Benicio (newcomer Kaden Leos). The young man becomes quickly attached to Irene and Benicio but a complication stands in the way.
Meanwhile, Shannon and his old friend Bernie (Albert Brooks) plan to start a racing team and they have only one man in mind to be the driver. The young man is willing but racetrack glory is insignificant to him. Only one thing in his life truly matters.
Based on a novel by James Sallis, "Drive" was written by Hossein Amini and directed by Nicolas Wending Refn. Perhaps it's because it was a book first, or maybe it's the combination of an Iranian screenwriter and a Danish director, but "Drive" is anything but a conventional Hollywood thriller. There's a streamlined precision to this movie that is perfectly in tune with its unnamed protagonist. We learn only what is absolutely necessary to know about each character. We never hear about the driver's childhood or just why he so rarely speaks or shows so little emotion. If he has daddy issues he's keeping them to himself. Those things don't matter. What's important to him is the job he has to do in that moment and now, how he can make the lives of Irene and Benicio better. That is his focus and that is what makes him so good at what he does.
Gosling's performance is superb. This isn't Steve McQueen-style detachment. There's a lot going on under the surface with this character, both emotionally and mentally. A lesser actor could have derailed this movie but Gosling keeps showing he's one of the best young performers of our time. Like the movie itself Gosling keeps us guessing. If he wants the position he could be the next thinking man's action star, a la Matt Damon.
The supporting cast (which also features Ron Perlman and "Mad Men's" Christina Hendricks) is terrific as well, particularly Brooks. Primarily known as the writer-director-actor of brilliantly sharp comedies such as "Real Life" and "Lost in America" (or the voice of Marlin in "Finding Nemo") he's the oddly perfect choice for his role. To say anything more than that would be to give too much away.
Amini and Refn's film is not one that can be easily categorized nor is it conventional in any sense. This is a movie that wants to set up expectations and make us think that we know what a character will do or say from moment to moment. It then likes to show us how wrong we were. "Drive" also doesn't really feel like a movie specifically from our own or any other era. In terms of character and storytelling it feels reminiscent of the '70s, while visually (and musically) it feels like the '80s.
Throughout its 100 minute running time "Drive" is an endlessly exciting film. Not because it's "an adrenaline-fuelled thrill ride"- honestly, how many times have we seen those words in a review?- but because it's not. It's the anticipation of danger and the uncertainty of what we will see next. Even the questionable choices the filmmakers make (and there are a few) aren't necessarily wrong and even if they are wrong they're just as fascinating as anything else in the film. They make us think and stir an emotional reaction. Actually the only scene in "Drive" that I didn't feel this way about is the rather conventional car chase that takes place about halfway through the film. In and of itself it's well done, but within the context of the overall movie it somehow seems out of place.
For some, "Drive" will be too weird. For others it won't be the action-packed car movie they were hoping for. And as much as I love it I can understand those arguments against it. This is a film for people who are excited by imaginative filmmaking, impeccable storytelling, and fascinating characters. If that's you then "Drive" is unmissable. 9.5/10.

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