Movie Review: DRIVE (2011)

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston

Written by: Hossein Amini

Directed by: Nicholas Winding Refn

Drive is not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, none of them are, but it’s pretty damn close. Nicholas Winding Refn has crafted a film that is not only beautiful to look at, but is captivating to watch. Filled with interesting characters and exciting and tense action scenes, it’s a movie that walks the line of action flicks that have come before it but brings enough of its own flavor to the table to create an experience that feels wholly unique and ultimately satisfying.

Ryan Gosling stars as Driver, a Hollywood stunt man and car mechanic by day, and a getaway driver for the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles by night. This isn’t just a normal man who happens to be able to drive stick; he lives and breathes cars, and is methodical when it comes to whatever job placed in his way. His icy demeanor slowly begins to melt however when he falls for his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a married woman whose husband (played by Oscar Isaac) is locked up in prison. When he’s released, he’s instantly targeted by goons who are looking to collect on “protection money” owed to them and Driver offers to help clear his debts and give him a fresh start. Needless to say, the planned job goes awry and Driver is targeted by local mob bosses who want to wipe him out.

With Hollywood’s directors essentially being interchangable nowadays, it makes Drive all the more impressive; it’s very much Refn’s movie. Every shot and angle has been meticulously crafted by the director with a specific vision and it sticks to it through and through. Had anyone else directed Drive, it would have been undoubtedly been a completely different movie. Visual appeal aside, Drive is also powerful when it comes to the audio, with an excellent and catchy electro-pop soundtrack that fits right into the proceedings in a way that you wouldn’t expect it to. I’m still humming the opening song as I type this review out.

The acting in Drive is wonderful as well, with every actor giving their characters added dimensions and quirks. Even though he plays the main character, Gosling doesn’t really talk as much and in turn uses his body language and facial expressions to successfully tell the audience what Driver is thinking and feeling at any given moment. A simple furrow of the brow or a darting of the eyes tells you everything you need to know, and his lack of dialogue adds to the mystique of the character. It also makes the times he does talk count all the more. Mulligan isn’t in Drive as much as you think, but she’s there enough to give the film a real heart and warmth. Her interactions with Driver are simple but effective and it’s easy to see why he would fight for her as hard as he does. Bryan Cranston also shows up as Shannon, Driver’s employer and a shady businessman in his own right, and gives a strong performance in a smaller role. Ron Perlman is also fun as the pottymouthed gangster Nino, getting some good moments to shine.

But like everyone else who has seen the movie, I firmly believe that Albert Brooks absolutely runs away with Drive. He truly steps out of his comfort zone as Jewish gangster Bernie Rose. In the beginning, Bernie seems to be an affable person with a sense of humor but as Drive progresses he becomes darker and darker. This transition is handled by Brooks perfectly, resulting in possibly his best performance in a movie to date (although Defending Your Life is brilliant in its own right). For those of you who grew up fans of his, expect to be taken aback by Bernie Rose, possibly even appalled. And trust me, that’s a good thing.

Why Drive is so successful, at least in my opinion, is its simplicity. There aren’t fifty themes being hammered home or convoluted subplots; the story is straight forward and the movie progresses in a logical and clever way. The tight script by Hossein Amini allows Drive to stay on track and turn this simple cat and mouse tale into an engrossing character study with more substance than one would expect. That may be why I love Drive so much; no tricks, no stupid asides, just a good and simple story told in a competent and engrossing way.

There are a few qualms I have with Drive that I can’t get into due to it being somewhat spoilery, but they do not detract from the quality as a whole; simply put this a film everyone who loves the medium should see. Refn’s direction is tight and purposeful, the acting is tremendous, and the story is simple but has enough depth to it to keep it from being generic. Add in some truly heart pounding action set pieces and a great soundtrack, and you’ve got a movie worth watching more than once.

Grade: A-

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