Friday, September 16, 2011


Nicholas Winding Refn, 2011
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac

It's been a long time since I've seen a movie as ridiculous as Drive.

A Hollywood stunt driver with no name (one of my least favorite screenwriting conceits) occasionally moonlights as a heist driver. He talks very little, but is exceptionally talented at driving. Gradually, he makes friends with his neighbor, the adorable Irene, and her equally adorable son whose father (Oscar Isaac) is in prison for some undisclosed crime. He spends more time with them and it is clear that the nature of his relationship with Irene is becoming romantic, but she receives news that her husband is being released from prison.

Meanwhile, the local shop where he works is being financed by an ex-producer, Bernie (Albert Brooks), and his dirty partner, Nino (Ron Perlman). The shop owner, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), has convinced Bernie to help him purchase a car they will restore and race with his star driver behind the wheel.

Standard, Irene's husband, returns home and is jealous of his wife's new relationship. The driver witnesses him getting roughed up by some gangsters, who beat up Standard and threaten his son. They make it clear that if he doesn't help them with a final robbery to pay off his debts, the threats will escalate. The driver decides to help him, mostly to protect Irene. It is supposed to be a simple convenience store safe robbery, but some unexpected mafia money turns up and everything goes wrong. Can the driver keep Irene and her son safe?

If you look at each element of this film separately, everything is ridiculous. The dialogue, the acting, the pacing, the set pieces, the soundtrack, and especially the writing. It should be a bad film. But when you put everything together, you get a surprisingly entertaining heist effort. Adapted from James Sallis' novel, Drive is part action, part noir, and part retro heist film. It was obviously inspired by Steve McQueen films, which Refn himself has stated. Honestly, I think this is the only reason that I liked part of it. Refn, who was chosen by Gosling to direct, is clearly a rabid film fan. Though his works aren't perfect, they have a lot of promise, namely Bronson and Valhalla Rising, both of which I recommend a lot more than Drive.

I liked that Drive feels dated and, partly from the lighting and soundtrack, seems like it should have been made in the '80s. The synth-heavy electro-pop soundtrack surprisingly works, except for a few places where it just comes across as absurd. Drive is also visually appealing. I love films set in L.A. and this is no exception. Allegedly the driver's wardrobe was inspired by Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising, which I find a little hard to believe.

If you don't take it too seriously, it's a lot of fun. It does take a little while to get going, though the second half explodes with flash and lots and lots of violence. With that said, there's no depth and it's overly polished. I enjoyed Ryan Gosling, who I have never actually seen in a film before. I don't understand the appeal and I wish someone with the screen presence of action heavy-hitters like McQueen or Clint Eastwood starred instead. I was a little disappointed in the rest of the cast. Carey Mulligan is adorable, but she doesn't bring much to the table other than smiles and dimples. The cameo from Christina Hendricks feels out of place and it's hard for me to watch Ron Perlman in recent films without being reminded of his character Clay from Sons of Anarchy.

Overall, I enjoyed Drive, though by no stretch of the imagination would I call it a good film and parts of it are incredibly stupid. If you're a Steve McQueen junkie or love car-focused action/heist films, it is worth watching.


  1. You should look at LARS AND THE REAL GIRL. I'd say Gosling is someone who has given strong performances in good, but not great, films. HALF NELSON, THE BELIEVER and BLUE VALENTINE are recommended, although the latter will probably inspire your wrath. Above all, stay away from THE NOTEBOOK. You might destroy your television throwing objects at the screen. He also played Young Hercules in a short-lived TV series if that floats your boat! Dartman

  2. Thanks! I've had mixed feelings about BLUE VALENTINE, as I tend to hate films about failing relationships unless they're directed by Bergman. And yes, I will absolutely not watch THE NOTEBOOK.