Mike Finkelstein will give you five minutes of his time. No more, no less. Within those five minutes, anything you need from him is yours. Afterwards, you’re on your own. So within that span of time, he thinks you could sit down and read his review of “Drive”.
PLOT: A Hollywood stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) doubles as a getaway wheel man at night. When he gets involved with his beautiful neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her son, he decides to try and help her fresh out of jail husband (Oscar Issacs) on a high-risk job that pits him against two ruthless mob bosses (Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks).
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MIKE’S REVIEW: “I don’t sit in. I don’t carry a gun. I drive.”
These are the words that introduce us to the Driver in Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE. It’s that simple. Going into the movie, I knew it’d be something different…a noir film about driving (interesting contrast to say the least), as well as Ryan Gosling’s next branch out from his usual dramas after CRAZY, STUPID LOVE.
DRIVE is so much more than just Ryan Gosling branching out. It is, I dare say, a masterpiece of film noir. You see the world, you take in the atmosphere, you know something is going to happen at SOME point and are looking for it…and then you get slapped in the face.
Our focus is on a nameless character only known as the Driver (Ryan Gosling). He is a Hollywood stunt man who doubles as a getaway driver. He gives you five minutes of his time, no more, no less (and he has a watch fastened to the steering wheel to prove his point), makes sure you’re safe, and then walks away. He is a loner. His only outside connection is to his boss and partner-in-crime…a crippled, fatherly mechanic (Bryan Cranston) who wants him to use his skills as a stock car driver.
Suddenly, our loner meets the beautiful girl next door, Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her son. With barely any words being said, you see the connection, but the Driver doesn’t dare make the tiniest move, because she still has a husband in jail. Don’t get me wrong…it isn’t a fear thing. It’s just that the Driver is as respectful as a boy scout. But he cares about them so much, that when the husband gets out and needs to pull one final job to make sure his family isn’t harmed, he offers his help.
DRIVE is downright romantic with its slow burn. We begin on a high with a slight, very exciting taste of the Driver’s capabilities, and then we retreat to the comfortable darkness and solitude. Layers upon layers are slowly built with every character around him. All of it is surrounded by the city of Los Angeles, which becomes a character in itself, painted with every bit of grittiness and seediness one could possibly squeeze out, and accompanied by a soundtrack of synthesizers and techno pop that could only be compared to something David Lynch would play. It is nothing short of gorgeous.
And then, all hell breaks loose. What was a slow, smooth ride with a breeze through these peoples’ lives becomes a six car pile up, and you feel Every. Single. Crash. We get violent. Very violent. It’s neither over the top and ridiculous, nor fake and cheesy. It’s real and tasteful, and gratuitous when necessary. You have no idea what is going to happen, and if you think you have any clue, you’ll start to panic again once you realize that this isn’t your normal Hollywood flick. Every piece of action/violence so far snuck up on you like a ghost, and anyone, including our loveable Driver, could die in an instant.
Ryan Gosling is mesmerizing as the nameless Driver. The man has done plenty of drama, showed he could handle comedy, and now we know he could be a subtle action star. I don’t know how he would have faired in a big budget epic where he’d have to chew the scenery, but here, he oozes Steve McQueen cool, and his quiet, reserved nature lends itself to the character, (very reminiscent of a young Sean Penn). But that doesn’t mean the Driver can’t rev up a bit. We keep getting glimpses of the Driver in his rear mirror, as if it’s a window to something deeper. Turns out, we’re right. When someone threatens the people he cares about, the Driver and his morals come completely unraveled. I don’t know if it was anger or nervousness, but you could almost see his mind snapping in one scene by the way he was shaking.
While Gosling was gripping in the lead, he also had a hell of a supporting cast backing him up. Carey Mulligan was beautiful and innocent (as always) as the quiet, nervous Irene. Bryan Cranston continued his streak with excellent supporting character roles as the crippled, riddled by back luck Shannon. Ron Perlman had some fun chewing the scenery and memorably spitting out curse after curse as the ruthless mobster, Nino. And Christina Hendricks, while somewhat wasted in such a small part, did what she had to do as Blanche, the in-between for the final job.
But the one man that stole every scene he was in was Albert Brooks as the main baddie, Bernie Rose. While Perlman was the over-the-top, no sympathy mobster, Brooks was the businessman. He is rational and compassionate, but if he realizes that he has to, he will kill you in a split second, and gruesomely. This is not the same Albert Brooks in LOST IN AMERICA and FINDING NEMO, and his simplicity and logical nature makes the role even scarier and more memorable than Perlman’s. Amazing job.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE is a visual masterpiece. With it’s slow burn first half leading into chaos, the film will keep you on your toes from beginning to end. Every actor is at the top of their game, and if you find a better, darker, more original gripping film this year, I dare you to say it.
1) RYAN GOSLING: I’m starting to think this man could play anything. He’s been only in serious dramas up until this point, and within the last six months, has delivered in both one of the funniest comedies of the year, and a full on action, film noir style. I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do.
2) ALBERT BROOKS: This man is not Albert Brooks, the comedian we all know and love. He is ruthless. He is violent. And with all that, he is completely sane and knows exactly what he is doing. He doesn’t overact or chew the scenery. He just is. And that makes him all the more intimidating.
3) GRITTY FILM NOIR: Nicolas Winding Refn did a beautiful job in bringing out all the dirt and seediness of Los Angeles. Not the town I’d ever want to live in.
4) SUSPENSE/VIOLENCE: What was at first a slowly paced ride built and built, and then all at once exploded into a violent bloodbath. It was almost like two separate films, and by the last half hour, I honestly had no idea who would live and who would die.
1) DON’T HAVE ONE: The film is smart and original with a cast that gel perfectly together. I was engrossed in the world of the Driver. When a film can do that to me, and I don’t know where it’s going, it did its job perfectly.
1) In preparation for the role, Ryan Gosling restored the 1973 Chevy Malibu that his character uses in the film.
2) Hugh Jackman was original supposed to star as the lead.