DRIVE Review

Though you may wander into "Drive" because the trailer makes it look like a top notch action thriller and it stars Ryan Gosling along with a sensational supporting cast, be prepared to get a whole lot more than you bargained for. It is with the utmost encouragement I urge you to stay in your seat when it becomes apparent this isn't exactly what it was made to look like in that trailer. Yes, it is a story centered around a stunt driver who also moonlights as a getaway driver and becomes entangled with the mob after growing affectionate for a woman. What it is not is the conventional Hollywood action flick and it isn't designed for the ADD generation. This is a carefully crafted, greatly directed piece of art with a film noir coating. It is reminiscent of a 70's action film that is glossed over with an electro-pop 80's soundtrack. From the opening chase and neon pink title credits the audience is given a taste of what this movie will feel like to experience. And it is just that, a true experience. This is a film all about tone and director Nicolas Winding Refn pins it perfectly. The story is rather standard gangster fare, but that tone, the composition, and overall direction make this the coolest movie of the year, if not one of the best.

Driver (Ryan Gosling) and Irene (Carrie Mulligan) are
roomates who might be something more.
Gosling is having a moment. After finally receiving deserved attention for last years "Blue Valentine" and not enough for what I thought was just as great a performance in "All Good Things" he has jumped to the forefront of the A-list with this summers "Crazy Stupid Love" the up and coming George Clooney directed "Ides of March" and this. "Drive" is almost like icing on the cake for the actor who delivers arguably the best performance of his career here. As the unnamed driver he gives us little to work with in figuring out who this man is. This is true of most of the characters here, we learn very little about them or how they have come to be in their current situations. This causes an extreme degree of engagement in the audience. We don't know these people, but we care for them. The prime example being Gosling's driver who barely utters a word for the first half hour of the film. Instead, Refn focuses his camera on the faces of each character, letting us into the thoughts and dilemmas going through their minds that are most of the time, ignored on film. "Drive" is based on a James Sallis crime novel that I haven't read, but I can imagine this might be one of the better book-to-screen adaptations ever seeing as this film just doesn't deliver the plot of the written word, but it gives us the motivations and the character study that no doubt made the book a hit.

Mobster Bernie Ross (Albert Brooks) becomes entangled
in a nasty crime in "Drive".
As said before though, tone is the key word here. "Drive" is quiet and cold, it pushes us to the limit on keeping us in the dark and then, out of almost nowhere, explodes into brutal action and violence that evokes alien emotions in our central character and us. The low-key performance of Gosling is truly like watching a master at work, he possesses such charisma that we are unable to take our eyes off what he might do next. It only helps that he is surrounded by actors like Bryan Cranston as the mechanic that shares his ambition to be a race car driver. In an attempt to make this dream a reality Cranston's mechanic enlists the help of local mobsters, played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman. To complicate things, the driver begins to show first signs of any kind of emotion when he meets Irene, a waitress with a young son who is awaiting the release of her husband from prison. The lovely Carrie Mulligan plays Irene and the underrated Oscar Isaac plays her imprisoned husband Standard. It is when Standard is released from jail and forced to do another job to pay back debts from jail that the driver becomes entangled to protect Standards family. The brutal action scenes here are underscored by the fabulous placement of bursts of electronic pop. It not only adds to the tone of this cold, mysterious film, but it makes those silent moments where the driver is alone and cruising the streets of LA even more powerful.

Ryan Gosling means business as
the unnamed driver.
What I like most about "Drive" though is it proves a film can truly be both greatly artistic and fun at the same time. I can't say that I have had a more engaging experience at the theater this year while also admiring the craft on hand. Every element of this film comes together to create a piece of cinema that is in a class all its own. It is a combination of the familiar to make something completely unique. It is a patient movie, it is a rush of adrenaline. And what is most beautiful is that the movie as a whole becomes the idea, an incarnation of our main character. It is cool and collected, stylish to the point of envy and exuding confidence even if everything about it might have been a gamble. Gamble it is not though, as this is one of my favorite movies of the year by far. The minute it was over I wanted to go right back in and see it again. "Drive" is no doubt an unnerving experience and sadly, one some people will not understand if they do in fact go in expecting that full tilt action flick the trailer promises it to be. I'm just glad that it wasn't the standard "Fast and Furious", I am thankful Gosling was wise enough to choose a director for the material who could really turn this into an experiment that at the end of the day is just as thrilling and ten times more artistic than what this could have easily become. Excuse me now, while I go pick up the soundtrack and drive around pretending to be a bad ass.