Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn (“Bronson”)
Written by: Hossein Amini (“Killshot”)
As the final frame faded and the credits rolled, the silence in the theater was deafening. An almost palpable sense of confusion hung in the auditorium as moviegoers tried to comprehend what they just saw. Where was the adrenaline filled heist movie that all of the trailers and TV spots promised? What happened to the quiet and sweet Ryan Gosling from the first half of the movie? How many ways can a human head be split into pieces, and did we have to see all of them? In many ways, “Drive” almost feels like two movies, as it takes a pretty innocent, by-the-numbers first half and then catches you off guard with some of the most graphic violence seen this year.
Gosling plays an unnamedHollywoodstunt-driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. His mechanic friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston) decides to go to mobsters Nino (Ron Pearlman) and Bernie (Albert Brooks) to secure their investment in a racecar team headed by Gosling. As “the driver” forges a relationship with neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, their bond is quickly threatened when her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from jail. In order to protect Irene and Benicio, Gosling agrees to help Standard with one last job. After the robbery is botched, Gosling is finds himself on the run from the mob, entangling all of the characters in a bloody mess along the way.
Ryan Gosling’s performance as “the driver” is a difficult one to evaluate. For the first half of the movie, he is a soft-spoken man of few words who can’t seem to stop smiling at the girl he is crushing on. But midway through, he exchanges his smiles for piercing stares as he morphs into a very familiar revenge-driven tough guy. The character comes off as shallow, as most of Gosling’s performance relies on emoting with his eyes rather than true character development, which is more of a fault of the script than his. Carey Mulligan isn’t given much to work with, but her beauty commands the screen and there is decent chemistry between her and Gosling. As for the other supporting roles, Albert Brooks and Ron Pearlman prove to be unmemorable as a pair of mobsters, with Pearlman being almost comical in his delivery at times.
One absolute positive about “Drive” is the skillful direction by Nicolas Winding Refn. His deliberate style is marked by perfectly-constructed shots with fantastic camera work and well-composed scenery. In a single scene, and in some cases a single shot, Refn shows beautiful images juxtaposed with brutal violence in ways that are completely unique to his style. The pacing of the film is purposely very slow and matched with plenty of lingering shots, sometimes of people just gazing at each other. The script itself is filled with clichés from several film genres, however Refn infuses stylized violence to break them up, a move that is executed well from a technical standpoint, but is perhaps better in theory than in the context of the film. One thing that is clear is that Refn was able to achieve his exact vision for the film, even if its results vary in success.
For a movie that boasts one of the most popular young actors inHollywood, and has a marketing campaign that implies a car-chase filled thrill ride, the unorthodox presentation of “Drive” leaves it with such minimal mainstream appeal. While Refn should be applauded and respected for attempting such a bold film, this strange and unique art-house take on a heist movie lacks the substance and character strength to match the level of quality of the direction.