Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, James L. Brooks, Ron Perlman
Drive is an oddity. The studio tried to promote it at San Diego Comic Con in the same way as other summer blockbuster films were being pushed. The problem is, no matter how many action scenes the producers screened or how fast paced the trailers were it just didn’t feel like your typical summer blockbuster. Not being a summer blockbuster however isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not perfect by any means but Drive is most definitely not a cotton candy experience.
Ryan Gosling plays a part time Hollywood stuntman that takes the occasional gig at night as a wheelman for criminals. Like so many of these hardcore pros that we’ve seen in the past he has a very specific set of rules (see The Transporter, the first one only please) that anyone hiring must follow. He works with a shady garage owner to trick out cars for both his day and night job. Gosling’s character known only as the “Driver” is a socially awkward loner with a shallow past. He lives his life fairly precisely from day to day until he meets his new neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son. They bring a ray of light into his life and offer him new distractions that he either has never had before or hasn’t had in a very long time. Things change again in the Driver’s world when Irene’s husband gets out of prison.
Irene’s husband is in debt to criminals causing the Driver to take pity on him and help him mostly for the sake of Irene and her son’s safety. Things go awry when a robbery that the Driver is helping her husband with falls apart in some shocking ways. The film is basic in character development and plot but the elements of the story that are in place are utilized with great precision. There are many twists and turns, some predictable and others that aren’t. This small little movie features a fantastic cast to execute the story including Ron Perlman and the movie’s true MVP James L. Brooks, along with Mulligan and Gosling. Brooks gets the MVP because he steps so far out of his comfort zone for this role and he’s riveting. The man we usually know as neurotic and funny is dark, angry, violent, and completely icy in this movie. In other words this character is a far cry from the one Brook’s played in Defending Your Life.
Drive is assembled and presented in a very retro way with quiet moments and specific music carrying the emotional beats. The movie is reminiscent of early Michael Mann minus the pastel colors and deck shoes. The biggest problem with the film is that it feels like a complete remake of another amazing film, The Professional. There are notable differences but the overall story is remarkably the same. Notice I didn’t say remarkably similar. I said remarkably the same, and it is all the way down to some small character nuances. Normally this sort of near plagiarism would decimate the score for me and it does impact the score but I liken this film to The Magnificent Seven. It was a remake of The Seven Samurai but wasn’t promoted as such when it originally played in theaters.
Drive isn’t a particularly long movie which is a further compliment to the precise directing of the film. There’s plenty of action but there’s also room for all of those quieter unspoken sort of character moments throughout the film. This is easily the little film that could this year. It’s not getting the attention it deserves from the box office but the budget is modest so it’s still succeeding. There’s a bit of intentional very uncomfortable humor in this film and extreme violence is shown parallel to some gorgeous character moments with edge of your seat action peppered in between. Drive is a must see for people who truly love movies.