Drive – Film Review
STARRING:Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks
DIRECTOR: Nicolas Winding Refn
STUDIO: Bold Films, Odd Lot Entertainment, Marc Platt Productions, Seed Productions
RUN TIME: 100 min
RELEASE DATE: September 16, 2011
By Chris Kromphardt
Staff Writer, Justice Administrator
These days, word of mouth can take any number of forms. In the case at hand, it came as a tweet by Ed Brubaker, a comics writer who while probably best known for killing Captain America is without a doubt most deserving of commendation for his creator-owned work with artist Sean Phillips (Sleeper, Criminal, Incognito). The tweet — “DRIVE is probably the first movie since MEMENTO that I’m angry I didn’t make. Not that I could, but that still, they’re both so my thing.” — made one hell a persuasive case for the film, in under 140 characters. It said exactly the sorts of things to get me to perk up and take notice of a movie that had otherwise pretty much flown under my radar.
On the surface, Drive doesn’t appear to be much. (And no, it’s not a remake of the Sly Stallone racecar driver flick from a few years back.) It’s the story of what happens when our protagonist — Ryan Gosling, demonstrating yet again that he’s an actor who defies any sort of easy classification at all — befriends a young mother and her son.
Our hero does a number of things to make a living, all of which revolve around cars — he does maintenance work on them in a shop, crashes them on a movie set as a stuntman, and occasionally serves as a wheelman in them on various heists. In this latter role, our hero — who’s never referred to by a name, further cementing the character as a cipher (more on this later) — observes a strict five-minute rule: once 300 seconds elapse, he’s gone from the scene. Minimal commitment. Which seems to fly in the face of his newfound interest in Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son, Benicio, but that’s the germ that sets in motion a story that’s pure noir to the core. Which means, you know to what end the story’s progressing, but as you learn about the characters you begin to pray for a merciful reprieve.
Noir is all about atmosphere, usually of dread but also of exhilaration. It’s not hard to make a movie with car chases and crashes at least somewhat exciting, but it’s the filmmaker who’s worth a damn who doesn’t settle for just milking those clichés for cheap thrills. Drive’s got some solid chases, but they’re not what the film’s about. Our Driver drives, but what makes this a truly excellent film is its black, beating, noir heart.
I’m not going to lie: I like using the word noir. And it’s hard to write a review about a film noir without using that word repeatedly, mostly because there’s no obvious synonym for it. In my experience (derived mostly from reading the without-exception excellent introductions to collected editions of comics written by Brubaker and Jason Aaron), noir’s a condition best diagnosed by its symptoms. A mysterious (anti)hero — Gosling’s character defines what it means to be a cipher; crazy villains — Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks are gloriously despicable; beautiful women — it’s astonishing how different Christina Hendricks is here from Joan on Mad Men; and, as I mentioned above, a pervasive sense of dread that is nonetheless hopeful. You know these characters have made some bad decisions, and that eventually someone’s going to have to pay for them, but still, maybe their fates won’t be that bad!
If I had to describe Drive without using the word noir (that’s the last one, I promise. Maybe.), it would be this: it’s a post-Tarantino (think lots of tchotchkes and unexpected violence, but with a strict cap on number of lines of dialogue per scene) genre film that’s 100% irony free. It’s also technically flawless — if you see it in a theater, see it in one with decent sound or you might as well watch it on an iPhone, that’s how awesome the sound editing and mixing are. In short, it’s everything I could have hoped for from a film recommended in a tweet by one of the best noir (crap) craftsmen working in comics today.