- Ryan Gosling stars as a stuntman by day, getaway driver by night. Submitted photo.
3.5 stars (out of five)
I saw an ad for Drive on TV a few minutes ago. It made the movie look like a bad-ass action flick. There is, in fact, action in Drive, and there are numerous bad-ass moments, but it is more an arty thriller that uses stretches of silence, or near silence, to build tension before exploding in intense bursts of action and/or ultra-violence of the bloodiest kind.
Drive is stylish as all get out. In the center of the madness is Ryan Gosling, saying next to nothing. At times his character exudes the kind of nihilistic coolness one associates with Steve McQueen at his most iconic. But Gosling has this choir boy smile, bordering on a smirk, that keeps him from crossing over into McQueenland. I'm not complaining about that, mind you - relentlessly stoic leading men are a drag.
The setup: Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt man who moonlights as a getaway driver. He befriends two of his neighbors, Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos). Mother and child are making it on their own while Dad (Oscar Isaac) is finishing his time in jail. Three other characters matter: a sad sack who deals in cars (Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad), a thuggish fellow prone to big schemes (Ron Perlman from Sons of Anarchy) and a B-movie maker turned criminal (the great comic Albert Brooks, clearly enjoying his nasty role). Plans are made. Plans go wrong. Paths are crossed. And so on.
How else to describe the movie? It's European, which will mean more after you see the film. Actually, it's got a Danish edge, which likely has something to do with the nationality of its director, Nicolas Winding Refn. Danish films are often glum in a weirdly agreeable way, as if the cast and crew all stared into the abyss just before they started filming. Refn establishes that tone, and he really does a nice job using the silence and banality as tools in the aforementioned tension-building.
But sometimes the silence gets dull. Back in the '70s, when arty movies with existential heroes were all the rage, I'd squirm impatiently in my seat as the filmmakers laid the mundane moments on thick to establish the authenticity of their stories, man. Drive made me fidget a little, but not too badly. Most of the time, the atmosphere, the style and the tension held my interest until we reached one of the "Holy shit!" violence and/or action scenes.
Drive is a pretty damn good arty "B" movie. I should end there, but instead I will make one last statement. After you leave the theater, think about Irene and what you've seen her go through, think of where she is the last time you see her and ask yourself this: What in God's Name would it take to get this woman to move? A terrorist attack? Godzilla? I mean, come on!