Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Drive (U.S., 2011) directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, 100 minutes
Nominated for one Oscar:
Best Sound Editing
The unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling) in this film, who works as a mechanic and stunt driver for low budget movies, also moonlights as a getaway driver on heists. The film was adapted not from the 1978 Walter Hill film The Driver but from a James Sallis novel of the same name with the screenplay by Hossein Amini.

Gosling has the perfect demeanor for this role. I don’t think of him as a particularly gifted or emotive actor. He often has a sort of flat, slacker expression on his face as if he couldn’t care less what you thought of him as a person or as an actor. Apparently this has a disarming affect on women of a certain age group (take a peek on the Internet for all the “Hey Girl …” memes where an imagined Gosling sweetly addresses his adoring female fan base).

But here, that cool, disinterested visage works. He can’t be emotional; he needs to be completely in control whether he is rolling a car for a stunt for an extra $500 or eluding the cops in the terrific car chase scene that opens the film beginning at the scene of a robbery, racing through Los Angeles with the two frightened robbers in the back seat and ends in the parking lot of the Staples Centre with the Driver smoothly gliding past a few cop cars looking for the suspects.

The movie has an odd but pleasant retro 80s feel from its shocking pink neon title to the sometimes inane pop music that accompanies the sometimes graphic scenes to the shiny satin jacket that Gosling sports for much of the film (even after it has been liberally splattered with blood). 

The Driver’s boss Shannon (Breaking Bad's terrific Bryan Cranston), who owns the garage where the Driver works, has a scheme. He wants to buy a stock car staked by mobster Bernie Rose (the fantastically frightening Albert Brooks). Bernie, a witty and acerbic petty gangster, is impressed with the Driver’s skills and agrees to pay the $300,000 for a 70% stake in the car against the advice of his business partner “Nino” (Ron Perlman) who changed his name to Nino to camouflage his business dealings and his Jewish heritage. Oh another small detail about “Nino”, he once had Shannon's pelvis broken when he found out Shannon overcharged him on a job.

The Driver soon gets involved with his pretty neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son, Benicio (Kaden Leos). Later, Irene has her car towed to Shannon's garage, and the Driver begins spending more time with them until Irene's husband, Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac whom you may also remember as the male lead from Madonna’s first film WE), comes home from prison.

Initially my thought were that Mulligan is too sweet, too passive for this role but realistically this is exactly the kind of girl that would get sucked into this life of petty crime and horror. 

Standard owes "protection money" to a petty criminal named Cook (James Biberi), dating from his stint in prison. Cook beats up Standard and threatens to come after Irene and Benicio. The Driver agrees to help Standard by driving him to and from a pawn shop that he is to rob, aided by Blanche (Christina Hendricks), Cook's moll, to clear his debt to Cook. 

Standard is shot dead by the pawn shop owner as he returns to the car after the heist. The Driver and Blanche hide out in a motel room and the Driver threatens Blanche into tell the truth about the robbery. Cook's plan was to double-cross the Driver and Standard and take all of the money for themselves (which turns out to be a million dollars belonging to the East Coast Mafia). Cook's men attack the motel room, killing Blanche and injuring the Driver after which he decimates both of the would-be killers.

Here there is a transformation in the Driver - he turns from being a seemingly passionless, cynical participant into a sort of killing machine. The principals get spooked. Bernie takes out Cook and Shannon to silence them. I won't reveal how but I will say Bernie's specialty is knives. Brooks (as Bernie) is revelatory. His performance should have been recognized by the Academy.

The Driver takes out the hit man sent by Nino to kill him (Nino was behind the pawn shop heist), Nino and his chauffeur, and ultimately Bernie - all in fairly inventive and very graphic ways. In his ultimate encounter he is wounded and leaves the city - his fate and whether he will live or die is unknown. 

Nicolas Winding Refn has an unerring sense of timing to create suspense for example coupling a long drawn out kiss between the Driver and Irene, set to dreamy atmospheric music, before the Driver turns on the hit man that is riding in the elevator with them and literally stomps the man's head into a horrific pulp before a dumb struck Irene. 

Gosling should have been recognized for his work here. I'm thinking of creating my own meme: Boy, you know I would have voted for you if I had been in the Academy ...

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