Monday, February 20, 2012

REVIEW: Drive (2011)

Director: Nicolas Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks

Retro is cool these days, and films like Machete, Super 8 and God knows how many Quentin Tarantino films are having loads of fun harkening back to the pulpy, old school action films of the 70s and 80s. But what really takes talent is when a director comes along and delivers a slice of retrograde fun alongside some seriously introspective, in-depth stylistic filmmaking that has more in common with arthouse films. It’s kind of like dressing up Snake Plissken and sending him to a dinner with top-dollar corporate executives who eat caviar – it really shouldn’t work. But the fact is that Drive is a stellar movie with some memorable as hell scenes and some of the best directing and music of 2011.

Ryan Gosling stars as a silent, stoic car repairman who doubles as a driver for criminals and other shady figures. “You get a five minute window,” he says. “Anything happens in those five minutes and I’m yours. Anything outside of that, and I’m out.” The opening scene is him on one of his jobs, set to a riveting soundtrack from Depeche Mode – the music is one of the standouts of the film, as it is sleek and stylish as hell. The opening scene is almost wordless, but captivates with its strong car chase and the stylized directing.

That goes for most of the film really. It’s not full of dialogue, but the dialogue isn’t even the focal point. It’s almost like a background instrument. Drive is composed in an odd, flowing, musical kind of way where no one element takes the foreground. Everything from the visuals to the music to the characters just kind of moves as one, singular unit – a pulsating wave of cinematic power. The film is subtly graceful even when it’s as bloody and violent as Goodfellas or Casino, moving between scenes in a waterfall-like flow.

The basic story of the movie that unfolds is that Gosling’s character meets a young woman named Irene (Carey Mulligan) whose husband is getting released from jail. The husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is involved with some guys who are pressuring him for money that he borrowed in jail, and Gosling ends up helping him drive. When the operation goes wrong and Standard is killed, Gosling goes on a spree to kill everyone involved before they can get to the wife and her son. The path it leads him on is destructive and vengeful.

We never really get any insight into Gosling’s character in this film. He’s very quiet, unnaturally so even, and doesn’t tell us anything about himself except that he likes driving. When he talks to the wife, he doesn’t ask her if she wants to hang out or have dinner – he just asks if she wants a drive. But there is a certain precision and coldness to him that speaks of something significantly darker in his actions. It’s impossible to make any judgment on his past or the reasons he is the way he is based on this movie alone, but I like the ambiguity of his character, and Gosling is such a good actor that he conveys the mysteriousness of his character with stunning charisma.

The other character I really enjoyed in this was Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose, who makes one of the best villains of the year. I like that the film focuses almost as much on him as on Gosling himself. He is an incredible actor and really gives a 110% performance in this movie. He’s a classic Scorsese-styled mobster villain distinguished by a carnal, bloodthirsty performance that rivals anything in the actual Scorsese’s canon with some truly vicious conviction. There’s one scene where he stabs one of his cohorts in the jugular several times in the middle of a café front. Not exactly a guy you want to cross.

Ron Perlman is also in the movie and although he’s not given the most prominent role, this is one of the better performances I’ve seen from him in recent years. He actually gives off a fairly menacing vibe, and I probably wouldn’t want to sit next to him on a bus. He’s rather vulgar.

The film’s arc explodes once Standard is gunned down in their failed robbery and Gosling is left to pick up the pieces and make sure Irene and their son are safe. We get a number of really cool hitman scenes where Gosling is just taking these people out – including a very memorable one under a bright moon at the beach…chilling stuff.

So Drive is a great film that I don’t think you should miss. It’s artful and yet also ass-kicking good. This is a mature, sleek and memorable film that will surely make it onto a lot of end-of-year lists, and for good reason.

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