Drive (2011)

Drive is more of a work of art than an action flick.  If you walk into the movie theater expecting exploding cars and an overdose of machismo, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Drive is a tribute to car films with neo-noir style.  It combines excessive violence, film noir and Hollywood spectacle, resulting in possibly the best film of 2011.

For a movie called Drive, there really isn’t much driving in it.  The film features a couple relatively short chase sequences, with one elaborate one towards the middle of the film.  All of them are done extremely well, and they portray the city of Los Angeles in a fantastical light, but the driving is just not as prominent as you would expect.  When you think of car flicks, you picture in your head engines revving and tires screeching, maybe the sound of metal ripping.  But the atmosphere here relies heavily on silence.  Ryan Gosling’s character is referred to simply as “The Driver”, and his character has very few lines for a leading man.  The character instead communicates mostly through facial expressions.  Because of this there are extended moments of silence where the Driver simply stares into the eyes of the person he’s conversing with, or in the case of the romantic interest in the film (played by Carey Mulligan) shyly averts his gaze and smiles.  Rather than making the character intimidating or bad-ass, the style softens him.  Contrary to the conventional Hollywood paradigm, the Driver doesn’t exude testosterone from start to finish. But when the time comes, he proves he’s more than capable of opening a can of whoop-ass.

The performances in Drive are top-notch.  Ryan Gosling proves he’s one of the most talented and versatile actors in Hollywood.  Having done nothing but dramatic roles, he branched out this year and showed off his comedic talents in the excellent Crazy, Stupid, Love., and now with Drive shows that he can be an action star.  Albert Brooks is fantastic as the main antagonist in the film.  Ron Perlman’s performance was a bit over-the-top for my liking, but he certainly wasn’t bad.  The aforementioned Mulligan is charming as Irene.  Her character feels down-to-earth in a film that rides the line between fantasy and reality.  Bryan Cranston (who despite being an incredible actor will always be known to me as the dad from Malcolm In the Middle) is more than capable as the father-figure in the film, who took the Driver under his wing and gave him a job in his garage upon arriving in L.A.  Christina Hendricks is under-utilized in her role, but that’s a minor complaint in an otherwise stellar supporting cast.

One of the most riveting scenes in the entire film.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, the Pusher trilogy) has described Drive as his version of a superhero movie.  The Driver is portrayed as a man that wanders, looking for people to help.  His intentions in the film are pure; his actions not motivated by greed.  So in that sense, the Driver exhibits traits of a typical superhero. The film is also incredibly stylish.  The soundtrack to the film is almost entirely retro sounding electronic pop music.  The credit sequences feature flashy hot-pink cursive font, also reminiscent of the 80’s.  Refn fetishes everything in the frame, from the ridiculous jacket that Gosling wears through most of the film to the excessive gore.  All of it resulting in a visual flair that awes the viewer.  Even when nothing was happening, I was still entranced by the style in every frame of the movie.  The scene in the strip club in particular is going to stick with me for a very long time.

Drive is not The Transporter, nor is it an Alejandro Jodorowsky film.  It’s somewhere in between blockbuster and art house, borrowing equally from both.  But regardless of what genre you choose to place it in, one thing is certain.  Drive is an incredible piece of film-making, and every fan of genre films owe it to themselves to go out and see this movie immediately.

5/5 Scorpion jackets

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