Tag Archives: Drive

Movie Review: ‘Drive’

28 Dec

By Chris Engelhardt

Ryan Gosling stars in “Drive,” Credit: “Drive" Facebook Page


Sometimes, an actor’s performance outshines a film as a whole. Such can be said of Ryan Gosling’s sharp, intense performance in “Drive,” a feature where not everything works, but where its finer qualities prove both excellent and effective.

Though “Drive” has its moments of predictability—there’s always a love story—and mostly solid, albeit quiet performances, the film is really an exercise in visual style, accompanied with grip-tight action and set to a fantastic Eighties-sounding synth score. The first half of “Drive” is the warm-up, plot-establishing period—the second half roars with compelling visuals, intensity and shockingly graphic violence. It’s the latter, in addition to another strong performance by Gosling, which triumphs the otherwise mediocre plot.

The locale is sunny California. That’s where we meet Driver (Gosling), a mechanic for his boss Shannon’s (Bryan Cranston) auto repair shop, and a professional stunt driver for the movie business. His life is centered on driving—it’s what he knows, and he knows it well. By night, though, he lives life on the edge as a getaway driver for criminals.

Driver follows through with a meticulous routine for each heist—he sets his watch and places it on the wheel of his car. All they get is five minutes. Driver, calm and confident, doesn’t carry a gun—he just gets criminals to where they need to go. Even before the opening credits roll, we see him in action, outrunning police with great speed and hiding under cover from the spotlights of helicopters. We see the risk of the job—we feel the danger.

But Driver finds himself traveling down an unexpected road when he comes to know Irene (a mellow Carey Mulligan), his neighbor who lives right down the hall of their apartment building. They go from acquaintances to something more after Irene’s faulty car breaks down, and Driver gives her and her son, Benicio (Kaden Leos), a lift home.

“What do you do?” Irene asks him in one scene.

“I drive,” he says.

“Is it dangerous?”

“It’s only part time.”

The truth is, driving is his life. It’s his identity. It’s all he has, until, with no surprise, he takes greater interest in Irene, and develops a friendly relationship with Benicio. The catch is that Irene has a husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac). He returns home after serving time in prison, and brings a major problem along with him: a debt he needs to pay off. Threats have been made against his family. Driver, who’s grown close to the family, offers to help Standard pull off a heist to protect Irene and Benicio. But after the heist goes terribly wrong, Driver becomes the target of crime bosses Bernie Rose (a blade-wielding, blood-thirsty Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman), and vies, despite heavy danger, to do everything he can do protect Irene and Benicio.

“Drive,” based on the James Sallis’ novel, operates on a familiar, yet lively plot. We’ve seen and experienced many a time the tale of a man who meets a woman, becomes romantically linked with her, and later finds himself rescuing her from a predicament. We’ve also seen far too many heist-gone-wrong pictures. These elements of the plot are really nothing new, nothing fresh.

But director Nicolas Winding Refn, who won the directing prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for the movie, provides us with a brilliant spectacle. His arsenal of camera shots and technical expertise result in a beautifully painted picture. And whether a car-chase scene, or the slowly unfolding romance between Driver and Irene, Refn has a specialty for creating an atmosphere of heightened suspense.  Where “Drive” also succeeds is in its shock value—The threat against those our lead character cares for very much brings to light a darker, more aggressive and brutal side of a man we thought we understood initially. It’s an astonishing twist that makes for some truly gripping scenes.

Gosling, the engine of the film, doesn’t just turn it up a notch—he turns the dial to its breaking point. It works. And much like in “The Ides of March,” Gosling maintains a strong screen presence, authority, and sincerity as an actor. Here, he turns in a vehement, volatile and slightly disturbing performance that’s not meant to be taken lightly. He gracefully shifts in personality and conveys the inner emotions of his character through his expressive eyes and emotive face. He allows us, as great actors do, to care for a character—one who is very much an enigma in this case—who we shouldn’t necessarily feel an iota of sympathy for.  Buckle up, “Drive,” though at times bumpy, is a hell of a ride. Grade: A-

(Article copy-edited by Tiffany Mesk Mattson for ChrisEngelhardt.com)