Saturday, November 05, 2011

Drive: Grade A

Drive (2011)

Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac; Director Nicolas Winding Refn.

Gosling is a young, impoverished, ex-con Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for burglaries. He befriends a single mom neighbor (Mulligan) and maybe there is a romantic interest there too, but her husband comes home from prison and it is tense. Nevertheless, when the husband gets caught in an extortion deal, the driver agrees to drive for him on one last heist, which, predictably, goes wrong. But Gosling ends up with the money so now the mob is after him and Mulligan too. He fights to freedom in several gruesomely bloody scenes, but realizes he is “no good” for the girl and drives away into the sunset (severely wounded).

What makes the movie good is Gosling’s very quiet performance, which I attribute to excellent directing as much as excellent acting. The book is extremely terse, with not a single spare word, and that economy is transferred to the screen in spare dialog, a perfect artistic choice. Gosling has hardly any dialog, expressing his moods and thoughts through subtle facial gestures and big dramatic actions, like decapitating a guy by repeatedly stomping on his neck. Usually, it is only mature actors who have the skill and the courage to act quietly though. It is a pleasure to watch Gosling perform. Albert Brooks, who usually grates my nerves, does a completely believable job. Mulligan has a terrible, passive role, so she doesn’t have much to do but look beautiful, which she does well.

The photography is outstanding, including the difficult inside-the-car shots, and the music is tense but not too intrusive. The director keeps the action tension very high. The car chases are not too clich├ęd, but at times hard to follow, like how, exactly Driver got undetected to the freeway underpass to hide from the helicopter. The cars look and sound good, too, Bullet-esque for the Mustang. The main problem is the driver’s character, which unaccountably drifts from earnest, sensitive mechanic and friend, to cold-blooded psychopathic killer. In the end, he apparently realizes his own psychopathy and that’s why he leaves town, but that doesn’t explain who he was when we met him. It’s a violent, bloody movie, not for everyone, but a thoroughly entertaining action film.

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