Review: Drive (TIFF 2011)
PLOT: A Hollywood stunt-driver (Ryan Gosling), who moonlights as a getaway driver, falls for a young mother- Irene (Carey Mulligan), whose husband, Standard (Oscar Issacs) has just gotten out of jail. When Irene and her son are threatened, the driver and Standard are forced to pull off a daring daytime robbery. When the job goes south, the driver finds himself in the cross-hairs of a mobster (Ron Perlman) and his vicious associate (Albert Brooks).
REVIEW: I can't tell you how long I've been waiting for DRIVE. Nicolas Winding Refn's BRONSON landed on my top ten a few years ago, and immediately marked him as a director to watch- and when I found out he was doing a noir-style action thriller with Ryan Gosling, I was pumped to say the least.
That said, I had no idea just how good DRIVE would be. I had an inkling that this might be something special after the film cleaned up at Cannes, but it was the first trailer that really knocked me on my ass. Something about the images Refn captured of L.A at it's seediest, combined with the amazing music from the Chromatics, and a sample from Riz Ortolani's score from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST really moved me, and from that moment on, I was obsessed with seeing DRIVE.
Being a Montrealer, I missed out on all the early screenings, but as they say, good things come to those who wait, and having finally caught it as part of TIFF, I'm glad- no, thrilled, to report that DRIVE is everything I expected it to be and more.
A lot of folks have been saying that DRIVE is heavily reminiscent of early Michael Mann, and I agree, especially if you compare this to THIEF. It also has obvious parallels with Walter Hill's THE DRIVER, but DRIVE is not a pastiche of other films. No, DRIVE is markedly original, to the point that I'm quite sure that if Michael Mann, or Walter Hill were given the script to DRIVE, they would have made something that wouldn't remotely resemble the film Refn delivered.
Granted, the whole getaway driver with a heart of gold thing has been done before, but DRIVE still feels wholly original. Gosling's nameless character is a fascinating figure. Soft spoken, and polite, he avoids any kind of macho posturing (minus his trademark jacket with a scorpion on the back). He's portrayed as an extremely noble figure, reminiscent of golden age gunslingers like SHANE, and he treats Carey Mulligan's Irene, along with her son Benicio, with care, and respect- to the extent that he never even dares to make a pass at the married Irene. He's also kind to his nice-guy boss, an aging, crippled mechanic played by the great Bryan Cranston, who rides his coat-tails in the hope of turning the young driver into a race-car driver.
Of course, being an action flick, there's another side to Gosling's character. There's a line you do not cross with him, and when you cross this line, as many (MANY) baddies do in the film, you die. Badly. Imagine shotgun blasts to the face, hammers, knives and boots being used to cave in a face, and you get the idea.
Before this, I would have never pegged Gosling as the heir apparent to the kind of action-cool that was personified in the sixties and seventies by guys like Steve McQueen. I've always liked him, but I always took him as a straight drama guy, but he can go toe-to-toe with any action icon you dare to mention.
Teamed with the startlingly original Refn, and you've got a star-filmmaker pair that I hope continues making films together for years to come. Refn's work behind the camera is startling, with him catching the neon grit of L.A, with DP Newton Thomas Siegel, extraordinarily well- with a touch of stylization to give it a cool, eighties- MTV/MIAMI VICE vibe that I loved. And the soundtrack- good lord. It's amazing. Since catching the film forty-eight hours ago, I've been listening to it on a loop, and the way the phenomenal tracks by diverse acts like Kavinsky, College, and Desire are used reminds me of the kind of great pop soundtracks that used to be expected in the eighties, as opposed to the mediocre studio-mandated mixes we get on most films (no Top 40 here, thank God). Additionally, DRIVE also boasts a terrific synth-score by Cliff Martinez, that plays homage to the great scores of Giorgio Moroder, and Tangerine Dream, particularly the latter's work on THIEF and SORCERER.
Another crazy touch that Refn brings to the film is the wild, against-type casting of Albert Brooks as the main villain, Bernie Rose; who's something like Jerry Bruckheimer gone gangsta. If it sounds ridiculous, don't worry, it's not. Brooks is firmly grounded, which, for my money makes him an even more memorable baddie. If you grew up watching Brooks as the lovable nebbish from DEFENDING YOUR LIFE and MOTHER, boy oh boy, are you in for a shock. Brooks is downright iconic as this cold-blooded businessman who's not portrayed as cruel or psychotic, but rather as a guy doing what he has to do to keep what he thinks is his due. He's a reluctant killer, but at the same time, he's capable of cutting a guy's Adams apple out with a straight-razor just to prove a point.
Suffice to say, DRIVE gets a perfect score from me. It's really exciting that in the space of two weeks we get not one, but two amazing films (this and WARRIOR), produced with modest budgets, and aimed at a grown-up audience (it should be noted, DRIVE is ultra-violent, but in a HISTORY OF VIOLENCE kind of way, meaning not over the top or comical). Please, please, PLEASE get out and support these two movies, as this is the kind of film Hollywood needs to be making- in that it works not only as entertainment, but also as art. And make no mistake, DRIVE is art.
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