Highly Recommended. An emotionally powerful film, if you don’t find the mayhem and gore unduly gratuitous. (I didn’t.)
Drive is a cinematic tour de force that reverses the Darwinian principle of the survival of the fittest. This powerful film noir is really about the survival of the “unfittest”.
Set in the turbulent, toxic L.A. underworld of organized crime, Drive plays out as if it is a Dostoevski/Nietzche fantasy channeled through the writers for Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. It is smart, irreverent, uber-violent without apologies and nihilistic to its core. It has an admittedly vulgar edge, but it is at all times mesmerizing. Quite frankly, you will have as much chance resisting the gravitational pull of this trip into the dark side of the human soul as a gnat can resist a half-empty glass of Cabernet.
Let me also say from the outset that those of you who may have apprehensions about Drive as being little more than a sophisticated version of The Fast and The Furious films need not worry, as the movies have nothing in common. To the contrary, Drive has a gritty realism and style, not to mention the fact that it treats women as equally complex characters as opposed to scantily clad hood ornaments. Even if Vin Diesel or Paul Walker had made it into this film, they would have been the first to die a quick but miserable death.
Instead, what you do have is Ryan Gosling playing a man with no name who is a Hollywood stunt driver by day and a hired getaway driver for various would-be criminals by night. While Gosling’s character here shares much in common with his laconic, reticent loner seen in the offbeat Lars and the Real Girl (2007), what sets them apart is that in Drive he has a dark underside that is only gradually revealed during the course of the film.
What is remarkable about Gosling’s performance is that he is called upon to do as much with his eyes and facial expressions as he is with dialogue. There are significant stretches, particularly at the beginning of the film, where he literally says nothing.
In particular, there is a fascinating opening sequence where you observe him coolly driving a getaway car from the scene of a crime while being pursued by multiple police cars and a helicopter. Throughout the chase Gosling never changes expression, and the camera focuses almost exclusively on his darting eyes as seen through the rearview mirror as well as a small toothpick that he casually chews. Let me emphatically state that Director Nicholas Winding Refn’s direction of these scenes in combination with the accompanying musical score by Cliff Martinez builds a palatable tension that will leave you literally squirming in your seat.
But as good as Gosling is, and make no mistake that he is sensational, he is far from carrying this enticing film alone. In a film where there are no good guys, only bad and worse ones, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks give exceptional performances as acerbic psychopaths in a similar vein as the villains in The Guard. And while Perlman is perfectly loathsome as Nino, a moody thug haunted by the disrespect he is continually forced to endure because of his Jewish heritage, it is Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose who claims ownership to this film. Playing clearly against type, Brooks gives an Oscar worthy performance as a mini-Godfather with a biting, lacerating tongue that is as sharp as his collection of straight razors that he uses to such lethal effect.
And yes, this is the same Albert Brooks who most of you know from his comic performances in the long distant past. In that regard, if you want to see him at his best, then hunt down Lost in America (1985) and Defending Your Life (1991), and you can acquaint yourself with Brooks’ Woody Allenesque comic genius. Regardless, the stark contrast between Brooks as the voice of Nemo’s father in the animated classic Finding Nemo (2003) and the glib, heartless crime boss who doesn’t mind getting his own hands bloody if the situation calls for it in Drive is nothing short of startling.
For you perky, upbeat readers (poor souls), I should note that there are only two relatively decent people in the entire film. One is Shannon, the physically handicapped mentor of Gosling, and the other Irene, a single mother with an 8-year old boy living in an apartment down the hallway from him. Bryan Cranston (Walter White in T.V.’s Breaking Bad) is nothing short of heartbreaking as a flawed but caring father figure to Gosling, and Carrie Mulligan is perfect as an emotionally needy young mother waiting for her husband to be released from jail. The moments when Gosling is drawn to her and her young son are both moving and genuinely touching, and Mulligan proves again why she deserves to be mentioned in the same category as the finest actresses working today.
Drive owes much of its success to the inventive screenplay by Hossein Amini. In particular, Gosling’s character is like a work of art that dramatically changes depending on what angle it is viewed from. In that regard, a pivotal scene occurs where he becomes involved in a botched robbery to try to help Irene’s paroled husband (a small but tenacious performance by Oscar Isaac) buy off a group of vicious gangsters threatening his family. In the aftermath, a gradual sense of horror unfolds as you watch Gosling metamorphosize from a benign human caterpillar into a ghastly moth capable of unspeakable violence.
This movie is not for the squeamish or weak at heart, so please be advised. Having said that, it will leave you as fascinated as you are appalled. And along that same vein, look for an elevator scene involving Gosling, Mulligan and a would-be hit-man who is destined to be a template for conversations with moviegoers for years to come.
Drive is far too honest a film to give you some cheap, self-satisfied ending. While I obviously won’t give it away, as a criminal defense lawyer let me simply describe it with an analogy concerning my feelings about representing anyone charged with the crime of child molestation. As I have repeatedly said, if I don’t get another such case, I will not die an unhappy man for that reason.On the other hand, that is not to say that I won’t die an unhappy man.