Monday, February 20, 2012

Movie Review: Drive

Warning, this review contains spoilers

There is a scene in an elevator where the driver (Ryan Gosling) draws the woman he's been falling in love with over the last one and a half hours or so, and proceeds to kiss her. Deeply. Passionately. Less than a minute later he's stomping a man's head into bloody pulp in that same elevator while the woman watches, her face a mask of shock and then, pain.

Drive is that kind of a movie.

The promos have mostly made it out to be an action adventure movie. Fast and furious yes, but less racing stripes and more snarling gangsters. Drive is that movie sometimes, but often, its a love story that exists within itself. The driver (his name is never mentioned) is an urban cowboy, part Clint Eastwood, part Steve McQueen, although there are times when he shows a lot more vulnerability than both. He's a mechanic who hires himself out as a stunt driver. He also hires himself out as a wheelman for small-time criminals sticking up pawnshops and warehouses. He's very good at what he does, and he manages to do be so through a combination of skill, horsepower and an encyclopedic knowledge of the city. Instead of trying to outrun and outgun his pursuers, he ducks into dark alleyways, parking lots and under flyovers with a smooth, serene confidence.

But then again, movies where the hero, operating on the wrong side of the law and yet very good at what they do, are common. What's not common is the love story and the amount of effort put into that story to make it tight and believable. He meets Irene for the first time in the elevator on the way up, and they exchange awkward smiles. The next time, he sees her in the supermarket shopping with her son. Later, he drives her home, her car having broken down. In the elevator, he bonds with her son, Benicio, over a game of who-blinks-first. She invites him in for a glass of water. Her husband is in prison and he's new to the apartment. We get to know little more about their backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the driver's boss Shannon has made a deal with two local mobsters, Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman). They will put up the money for a race car, and the driver will drive. Shannon is confident of his chances, but the people he deals with are not nice people. That's not a spoiler, it's obvious from the get-go. In a movie filled with small time criminals, they are medium-time; petty, violent, ruthless. One of them is played by Albert Brooks, and the other by Ron Perlman. Ron Perlman has of course, made a career playing tough guys, but Albert Brooks, known mostly for the voices he does for the Simpsons, is shockingly good. He's not slithery and cold, nor is he blustery. He's cruel in the most matter-of-fact way, with more than a hint of regret, but regret never comes before business. The kind of man who would comfort you gently as you bled to death, after he himself had slashed your wrists.

Driver spends a lot of time establishing the romance between the driver and Irene. It's paced slowly and allowed to develop, and while her fingers curling over his while they are on a drive is as physical as it gets (other than the aforementioned kiss, of course), its great to watch two very interesting characters communicate with glances and little gestures. It helps that Gosling and Mulligan are phenomenal actors.
However, the film picks up pace with the return of Irene's husband, Standard, from jail. Initially hostile to the driver character, he becomes friendlier after the driver helps him out. Standard could have been a stock character, and while he largely IS a plot device, the fact that he is played to be a decent human being who is truly regretful of what he has done and wants to change things is what keeps the film from moving into simple black and white territory. However, pretty soon, the film delves into the action and the tone changes completely, with intelligent car chases, shotgun battles, and lots and lots of blood. I didn't have a problem with the gore, but I can see why some people might.

There isn't a lot of suspense to the movie, so it's not a conventional thriller. The basic plot line is pretty easy to predict, but like many great movies, its not about the story, its how the story is told. And by giving us a stoic man-with-no-name hero who nevertheless breaks quite a few conventions about how such people are supposed to behave, and then surrounding him with characters you connect with and feel for, characters that vibrate with life, the movie tells a cracker of a story.


vinay said...

2011 proved to be good year for Ryan Gosling..with Drive and Ides Of March.
Good review. :)

Stacey said...

I loved this movie and I had no idea that Bryan Cranston is in it! I work for DISH so I watch a lot of TV and movies, and it’s remarkable what a diverse actor Cranston is and I was pleasantly surprised with Ryan Gosling. I decided to order Drive in HD from DISH because I heard it was good and I wanted to see Gosling play a role besides what I remember him as in The Notebook. Drive is certainly not a typical action thriller, but it’s well written and worth watching.

deadman said...

Bryan Cranston is indeed VERY good here, and a shocking surprise for people (like me) who know him from probably his most famous role in Malcolm....

Stacey said...

And let’s not forget his evolving character throughout Breaking Bad :)

BANTI said...

-Good piece of information.