Drive (2011) Review (R)
I enjoy the purity of this movie. For anyone that appreciates ‘storytelling’ in film, it won’t take long to figure out that (Dutch?) director Nicolas Winding Refn knows what makes stories work. Much of it is told without dialogue and/or in montage. The film is so stripped down to the bare bones that it deliberately sidesteps scenes that other films/writers/ directors would have focused on. The eventual meet cute of the Driver and the love interest is done wordlessly, for example. In fact, whenever there’s an opportunity for the director to tell the story without exposition, he does so. The main character’s dialogue probably doesn’t add up to five minutes of screen time. He’s a man of few words (and kinda’ ‘off’ in the same way Travis Bickle was). ( Speaking of Bickle), there are a number of nods to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and could pass for some sort of onscreen cousin, just without the narration and monologues that you got from De Niro. There’s also some similarities to Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns and his ‘Man with no name’ character. I swear there’s a bit of Hitchcock in this, too. If you’re a fan of movies, you’ll probably get much more out of this than your average moviegoer. The fact that the pacing/tone of the film is very European will probably turn off some viewers. Am I needlessly getting defensive about the film? Probably, but after reading any number of detractors in the form of Netprix reviewers, I think I can see that it’s not quite dumbed down enough for some people. Did that sound as obnoxious as I think it did? Sorry, but it’s true. Moving on…
The first five minutes of the film evokes The Dark Knight in the way that it immediately and thoroughly sets the tone for the rest of the film in the opening. Maybe not quite as clever, but its right up there. The film’s protagonist, the Driver, gives a brief explanation of what he does (he drives..duh), then the film gets on with it. I’m not going to get into the plot other than to say that the main character starts out in the film as a man that only finds purpose behind the wheel of a car. He keeps to himself, keeps a low profile and avoids complication. He has a day job that involves driving and moonlights in less than legal operations almost as if he needs to stay behind the wheel of a car. Of course, things do get complicated for him (or else there wouldn’t be a movie). I’ll let you see that for yourself, though.
Besides a clear minimalist story, the movie is well shot. It looks great from start to finish. The director frames things from interesting angles. It also possesses either an outstanding soundtrack or a GIANT miscalculation. I thought that it was the former. There was a faux 80s vibe to it, along with some low pulsing techno ditties.
I haven’t been the biggest fan of the films of either Gosling or Mulligan, but my opinion of both of them changed with this film. Gosling’s ‘Driver’ is the strong, silent type of character who is easy to pull for. He’s sympathetic in the way that it’s clear he’s been damaged in some way (that’s never explained), and (again, much like Travis Bickle) has some deep rage waiting to boil over if given to the right cause, which happens to be Mulligan’s character. She, too, is an archtype, and her role is pared down to looking doe-eyed sweet or being the cause for which the hero fights for. She isn’t a complete victim, though, and her character opts for the high roads even in dire circumstances. The fact that the director chooses not to delve into the ‘why’ and just stays in the moment with the characters is something I really enjoyed. Lately there appears to be a NEED in filmmakers/storytellers to explain backstory. A villain can no longer just be presented without an entire history of the character given at some point in the film. Or even worse, we’ll get a prequel to some film so that some idiot writer can delve into ‘what came before’ so as to try and ruin the previous film with their inane explanations (see also, George Lucas).
Where was I?… Bryan Cranston… Bryan Cranston is one of those somewhat familiar television faces. I’ve seen one episode of Malcolm In The Middle in which Cranston played the title character’s father. Just one, mind you. His character seemed to be a little light in the loafers and in that episode was on roller skates. I cannot describe properly what that involved, but I will say it was comedy gold. he had to have been a large part of the success of that show. I also saw about 10 minutes of that other show where the lead is dying of cancer, so does illegal things to make money for his family… And he’s been dying, for like, 4 or 5 years now. With that one episode of MITM and the waste of time watching ‘Breaking Bad’, I could see that Cranston is better than TV. The man’s a talented actor. He probably won’t play the lead in a mainstream film, but he’ll be a helluva’ character actor. Maybe he should have been nominated for some awards for his role. Did I really talk longer about the supporting actor than either the lead or the leading lady? Crap. Oh, well. No use deleting anything. Those words take effort.
The biggest surprise in Drive is Albert Brooks… As a heavy. A bad guy, I mean. He’s shockingly effective as a man that can move from polite conversation to brutal violence on a dime. He’s likable to a degree, but you can always see in the film, that he is a man of violence (the Driver’s mirror). I think the lone weak link in the entire film is Perlman, even if I’ve liked him in a few other things. He’s best in this without dialogue, but the film is so well constructed that even Ron Perlman couldn’t ruin it. I bet the film would have even been Bruce Dern-proof… Okay, I’m a little tired. Few movies are Dern-proof…Where was I…?
‘Drive’ may not be for everyone. As I said, it’s very European, but Tarantino’s films are European in style, also, and I don’t just mean ‘meandering’. It’s also kinda’ violent… No, not kinda’… It’s very violent… Seriously graphic, even… Maybe to a gratuitous degree in a couple of scenes. The violence is spaced out to make each vicious act a bit more resonant. And it is. I enjoy a good bit of violence (even gratuitous) in a film as long as the movie doesn’t suck. And this one doesn’t. In fact it made my Top 10 Films of 2011… It’s a GREAT film (but violent), that I think might be a real audience pleaser, besides being loved by most critics. Director Refn has himself a winner.