Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks
Writer: Hossein Amini, based on the book by James Sallis
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Release Date: September 16, 2011
DRIVE gets off to a promising start, introducing us to our Driver protagonist (Ryan Gosling), a movie car stunt expert by day, a getaway driver by night and an occasional mechanic at a Valley garage when he’s not doing either of his more hazardous professions. We meet the Driver as he’s giving his rules to two robbers who manage not to screw things up too badly. As any film noir fan can guess, the Driver won’t be so lucky next time.
Driver’s garage boss/stunt agent Shannon (Bryan Cranston) is anxious to get in on the stock car circuit, so he persuades former movie producer/current gangster Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) to invest in a vehicle after seeing our fellow spin it around the track. However, the Driver has also struck up a quietly flirtatious friendship with his down-the-hall neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan). When Irene’s husband Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison, the Driver gallantly tries to help him get out from the long reach of protection racketeers who are pressuring Standard to do a job for them. This does not go well.
Filmmakers who refrain from naming their main characters very often think they’re saying something more universal and profound than their projects convey, and that’s the case with DRIVE. Director Nicolas Winding Refn provides a lot of gorgeous shots of Los Angeles, but the heartbeat of the city never seems to sync up with the story being told. All of the L.A. elements are present, with gorgeous sunshine, tangled freeway overpasses, show biz and crime rubbing elbows, but the further into DRIVE we go, the less all of its parts feel like they add up to a propulsive whole.
Hossein Amini’s screenplay, based on the book by James Sallis, relies a little too much on coincidence than works for either noir formula or credibility. Things get so satisfyingly murky that we wait for a brilliant USUAL SUSPECTS revelation of how it all ties together, only to learn that some elements only incidentally relate to one another. The movie stuntman aspect of the plot turns out to be a glamorous backdrop, rather than an element that impacts the main story in any way.
Given how isolated the Driver is, we can certainly believe that his interactions with Irene and her little boy are a new and refreshing experience for him. From what we see of Irene’s life, it’s also easy to understand why she so readily takes to her helpful, capable neighbor. What we don’t feel is the kind of overwhelming pull between two individuals that would make us root for the relationship. We know that these are two tamped-down, cautious souls, and we can logically see where this is going, but our comprehension is cerebral, not visceral.
There is plenty of visceral violence on display here, and on that front, DRIVE does very well. There are shootouts, stabbings and various other kinds of bloody mayhem, but the only incident that really registers is the one that turns the course of the plot.
Gosling does a fine job as the shrewd, restrained lead, convincing us that he’s fully capable of both kindness and ferocious brutality. Mulligan is warm and gentle. Brooks makes a strong impression as the expansive but deadly gangster, Ron Perlman is enjoyably cranky as his second and Cranston is a lot of fun to watch as a small-time criminal with innocent dreams that don’t pan out. Isaac delivers the most complex character and performance as a man who rightly assesses the romantic threat posed by the newcomer in his wife’s life, but who also knows when it’s time to accept help.
DRIVE starts off strong and full of possibilities, but despite its fine action, it loses shape as it progresses, so that we become less instead of more engaged as it goes forward. By the time it reaches the finish line, it has stalled in saying anything new about Los Angeles, redemption or any of the other topics it touches without fully grasping them.
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Article: Movie Review: DRIVE