Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Stylish Drive with Major Acceleration

     You don't need to know much about Ryan Gosling's character in Drive, the third great film in a row (after Bronson and Valhalla Rising) by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. Hell, you don't even need to know his name. You see, he's a driver, just with two different occupations. By day, he's a part-time stunt driver for the sorts of movies that call for police cruisers to flip at wonderfully over-the-top angles. By night, he's for hire for the sorts of jobs that call for dangerous robberies and tension-filled chases. It doesn't matter which job he is attending to at the moment; Driver succeeds at each with the same looking-straight-ahead determination and steely resolve.
     Driver is smart, though: when we first meet him, during one of his occasional criminal drives, he outsmarts police cars and helicopters with a sneaky, quiet swagger that would make any Grand Theft Auto player squeal with delight. As other reviewers have mentioned, Gosling's character (Driver) evokes the "man of few words" style and all-around badass-ness of (most notably) Clint Eastwood's 1960's westerns. He does something, We see it, and he doesn't feel the need to talk about with anyone.
     That's not to say that Driver is emotionless. There are a myriad of moments that define who he is in Drive that don't need to be said aloud. Drive, ultimately, is a stylish, slow-burn story about doing what you think is right and being loyal to the ones you care for. Driver lives in a shitty, dark apartment and helps out down at the local garage owned by Shannon (played by Bryan Cranston, in a thankless role that doesn't really mean much). Occasionally, Driver runs into his neighbor Irene (portrayed by the always-cute Carey Mulligan) and soon they become to grow fond of one another. Here is a major aspect of how Drive and other Action/Chase movies differ: Refn's superb direction of the quiet moments: instead of unrealistic dinner dates and quick cut scenes to tops coming off, the director captures the quiet moments that happen during the zygote-stage of a relationship. Every expression, smile and tear is captured in intimate detail, aided by the always wonderful music selection of Refn (becoming a great signature of his work). It's extremely realistic, and it succeeds it making you feel like you're in the scene instead of watching it.
     In fact, everything in regards to the film making is realistic. This is an adult film with adult emotions, tension and violence. A Michael Bay film this ain't. Driver learns that Irene's husband is in jail, and he's getting released right on the cusp of Driver and Irene's potential love. Surely this is going to change the dynamic of Driver's recent relationships. There's no sense to go too far into the plot, but soon enough the slow ride of the film turns into a quick-turning roller coaster filled with thrills and chills that evoke recent and great Japanese revenge films and some of Stanley Kubrick's controversial masterpieces. Danger lurks everywhere, and nobody seems safe.
     Drive is based on a novel by James Sallis, and surely he must be pleased with the result. The film feels like a novel, with a great buildup that is rarely achieved in cinema nowadays. Instead of mindless car chase after car chase and mind-numbing shootouts with quick cuts and fast violence, Drive's scenes linger. They linger on shy smiles and I-mean-business looks, they linger on the intricacies of driving a car to its full potential, and they linger on ruthless acts that are committed in the name of loyalty. Consider me a loyal follower of Drive.     (A)

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