Monday, September 26, 2011

Drive (2011)

Seen: At the Somerville Theater in Davis Square.

You know me, always keeping up with the times as I review new movies weeks after they're relevant. Nicolas Winding Refn's much-discussed Drive stars Ryan Gosling as an unnamed stunt driver who's a getaway driver for hire on his nights off. He befriends the young mother (Cary Mulligan) who lives next door and just as they're falling for each other her husband (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison. He wants to go straight and keep his family safe, but is pulled back into the criminal world and needs the Driver's help. Tons of shit goes down.

Despite its thrillery, actiony-sounding premise, I'd say Drive is primarily an understated, minimalist crime drama. Until the intensely violent final scenes, the film relies almost solely on its strong cast and dreamy visuals. The sparsity of the script allows Gosling and Mulligan to communicate primarily through facial expressions and body language, and both are expertly expressive. Sometimes the stilted dialogue and prolonged silences are just comical (and I'm not sure it's meant to be), but for the most part it works. Gosling's character starts off as a mysterious cool-guy archetype but he slowly cracks and develops as the story progresses. The small appearances from Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston, and especially Albert Brooks lend some interesting variety to the performances.

It's a slow-burn investigation of violence and a strong character piece, with wonderful soft lighting and realistic but not overdone gore. A couple of great car chases, too. I really loved the shoegazey soundtrack (yay female vocals!) but found it overpowering in certain scenes. I liked Drive a lot but can't say I loved it, especially since most other reviewers are obsessing over it. Maybe it's just that I'm usually not one for minimalistic ambiguity, plus a lot of the scenes felt pretty stagey and not necessarily in a good way. I guess it just didn't leave a lasting impression on me, and I'm missing something that so many other viewers are latching onto.

And yes, Ryan Gosling is really, really attractive, and I don't usually go for blondes, so that's saying something.


Pair This Movie With: For another great, quiet Ryan Gosling performance I recommend The United States of Leland, even though it's really sad. Or if you want to go more upbeat with things, there's Hooper, another movie about stunt drivers!


  1. I agree that the soundtrack was a bit overpowering at times (didn't mention that in my review). And was it my imagination or did the lyrics seem to comment on the action in the story as well?

  2. This is currently one of my favorite films this year as I posted a review of the film's soundtrack on my other blog. I just love the music in that film.

    As for The United States of Leland, I didn't like that film. I just found it to be heavy-handed with messages and ideas despite a few great performances from Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, and Jena Malone, my muse.

  3. Rich: The lyrics did sometimes seem to apply really well to the story, you're right!

    thevoid99: Yeah I think this one will end up on a lot of year-end favorite lists! I loved the soundtrack a lot, too, definitely one of the best I've heard recently. And I think I like THE UNITED STATES OF LELAND so much because I saw it in high school when weepy indie's were one of my favorite things, and when I first got a major crush on Gosling. I was getting into Jena Malone at the time too.

  4. I'm putting mine up on Thursday, so I'm even more behind the times than you...
    (FWIW, you gave it a half-point more than me)

  5. Looking forward to this one, I think it should be arriving this week in my country.

    I've enjoyed Refn's past films, Bronson being my favorite of all (highly recommend that one by the way!) I think it's great that his finally making a "comercial" film, though it looks like it still retains some of Refn's artistic sensibilities which is an important thing to me, that he doesnt completely sell out.

  6. Yeah, I'm one of the obsessives.

  7. Just got to see it myself. Strong review and, yes, some of those long pauses ended up being hilarious at moments I'm fairly sure weren't meant to be. I'm definitely getting on moving "Bronson" from my instant queue to "Recently Watched" after having caught "Drive." What a pleasant escape from the regular box-office fare.

  8. "It's a slow-burn investigation of violence and a strong character piece." I couldn't have said it better myself. Great review! I think I'm basically on par with you--I enjoyed it a hella lot, but I didn't go crazy over it. I definitely had a couple issues with the silence and the music, but what can you do, eh? And I always love your "pair this movie with" bits, so I might have to check those out.

  9. Alex,

    I enjoyed reading your review after I've just seen it. I think I like it a bit more than you do, and I think I feel the film takes itself not as seriously as others have made it out to be. Refn has said his influences included Sixteen Candles and Pretty Woman among others. Either he's joking or crazy. I thought the film was an impressive emo-noir (my own coinage). It's like if Jean-Pierre Melville had a movie child with Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Neo-Noir plus Melodrama equals Drive. I thought it was brilliant!

  10. I guess i'll take your word that Ryan's a good looking lead, loved the movie though!