October 5, 2011
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Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan & Albert Brooks
Directed by Nicolas Winding Rfen
Rated R, 100 min.
A Hollywood stunt driver intersects with dangerous gangsters in “Drive,” a dark, hypnotically stylish thriller about one man’s extreme reactions to extreme circumstances.
Will mainstream moviegoers want to go along for the ride? Possibly, with Ryan Gosling behind the wheel, hot off his previous role in “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” one of the summer’s brightest romantic comedies.
But there’s nothing comedic or even particularly romantic about “Drive,” which punctuates its long stretches of cool, carefully calculated menace with splattery spasms of shocking violence.
Gosling’s character, who is never named, is a garage mechanic sidelining as a stand-in for movie stars in car chase and crash scenes. At night, however, he’s a getaway driver for hire, freelancing for thieves who need his skills to successfully speed off after heists.
Director Nicolas Winding Rfen spins an arty, moody, broody, almost dream-like web taut with intrigue. Gosling’s driver is a man of few words, and it’s hard to know what’s going on behind his unflappable, unblinking gaze. He’s unreadable, unknowable--even to the sweet single-mom waitress down the hall (Carey Mulligan from “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”) who captures his attention.
The driver’s involvement with Irene begins with a simple act of kindness but leads to something more, even though it never quite blossoms into full-blown romance. It also leads to a perilous entanglement with her ex-con husband, a robbery that goes horribly awry, and a couple of thugs who don’t like having loose ends hanging around.
Brian Cranston of the hit TV series “Breaking Bad” and Christina Hendricks put some real, red meat on their supporting roles, especially Hendricks, whose brief turn as a used and bruised accomplice bears little trace of her familiar role on AMC’s “Mad Men.”
But the movie’s most galvanizing performances belong to Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks as the two businessman brutes of which the driver runs afoul. Brooks is best known for his many other achievements in a much more comedic mode, but here he slices into a new vein of totally uncharacteristic evil, especially for a couple of genuinely gasp-worthy scenes involving a fork, a knife and an antique razor.
“Drive” sometimes feels like too much style over too little substance, and its ending will leave many viewers with an emotionally vacant, empty-tank kind of feeling. But this gritty, unflinching depiction of a seedy L.A. underworld of speed, shadows and slime does make for an interesting, even intoxicating place to visit--especially knowing that you can get in your own car and “drive” away when it’s over.
--Neil Pond, American Profile