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Drive (2011)

September 19, 2011

8/10 Evil Knievels

About time Gosling got to play the badass that he is.

Drive is about an LA stunt driver who rolls cars and fixes junkers during the day, and makes some dough on the side by moonlighting as a getaway driver. Through a course of chance run-ins, he starts to get cozy with the new girl down the hall, things seem to be going swell, but then her husband gets out of jail and screws everything up. Lo and behold, the husband starts getting his skull thumped in because of some unpaid debts from his time in Sing Sing, so being the softy that he is, the driver decides to help the guy out by doing a job with him. As luck would have it, things don’t exactly go according to plan and the driver has to muscle his way out of an unfortunate situation before the West Coast mob kills him and the girl next door.

So I’m just gonna cut to the chase and get to the one thing in this movie that everyone wants to talk about: Ryan Gosling, the best thing to come out of Canada since poutine. Yes, he’s one of the few men on this planet that I admit to having a man-crush on; yes, I’m sure I’m not alone on this matter; yes, that is probably part of the appeal. But the thing about Gosling is that he’s more than just the looks and he’s more than just cool. He just is. The more I watch movies, the more I realize that it’s not all that unusual to find guys who are badasses that make it look easy. Gosling’s got that when he walks down the street and I really don’t think anyone can argue otherwise, but what sets him apart here is his character…and a totally bitchin’ jacket.

I’ve gone over this before, but one of the qualities that drives me crazy about human beings in general are those who don’t know the benefits of shutting the hell up, who just talk for the sake of talking. Here, as “the kid,” Gosling is the antithesis of that. When he speaks, it’s ’cause he has to, and even then you’ll probably have to ask him twice just to get a one-word answer that roughly translates to: “Settle down, child. I’m Ryan Gosling.” There isn’t a lot of conversation to be had in this movie, but when there is, it either cuts to the chase or is so funny that all you want to do is keep listening. It’s a beautiful thing, really, and it’s a really accomplished script from the bottom up.

I don’t know if this is gonna get him a second Oscar nod like some think it will, but this role has been a long time coming for Gosling and he flat-out destroys with every chance he gets (which is all the freaking time). But the weird thing about it is that this isn’t even Gosling’s show. That honor actually goes to director Nicolas Winding Refn. If you haven’t seen his Pusher trilogy, Bronson, or Valhalla Rising, here’s what you need to know. Nicolas Winding Refn makes movies about mean motherfuckers that are as stunningly gorgeous as they are brutally violent. This is one of those movies.

The way Tarantino took a modern-day setting and made it feel like a trip back to the ’70s, that’s exactly what Refn does here, only fast-forward a decade and take out all the stuff we’d rather forget about, like Members Only jackets. From the hot pink font in the opening credits to the synth-fueled soundtrack that works so much better than it had any right to, this sucker makes Miami Vice look like a Wham! video. More so than the performances or the writing, the way Refn frames every scene, moves it along, and sets the tone by keeping things simple is what makes us completely forget that the stolen tag line isn’t the only similarity this movie has to No Country for Old Men. Really, what an unbelievably good-looking and expertly controlled movie this is.

As far as the action scenes go, there’s only a few, but while they lack in quantity, they more than make for it in quality. Some seriously intense stuff that had my heart in my throat and took no prisoners. I mean, all you really have to do is look at Albert Brooks as the villain in one of the best against-type roles I’ve seen in ages. When I think of Albert Brooks, I think of Marlon from Finding Nemo or his flop sweats in Broadcast News. I don’t think of a ruthless mobster who smiles as he guts you and considers it business as usual, but it comes to him quite naturally and he ends up making for one awfully memorable sonofabitch. And even though you can blink and miss Christina Hendricks’ role, there’s actually not a weak spot to be found in this cast, and that’s just fine.

So the story’s nothing new, the violence is a bit much, and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you’re looking for non-stop car chases (probably could have done with a different title for that matter), but Drive is some kind of ride alright. It’s an exercise in minimalism that’s got attitude, style, and character to spare with a cast who knows how to work it. There’s really something to be said for a film maker who can take something we’ve seen before and turn it into something that just makes you go “Damn.” I could have said it a lot more than I did, but this movie is just cool as sin. Who cares if the action scenes are over and done with in all of 60 seconds? When they’re done this well and are buffered by this much substance, it quickly becomes a non-issue.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2011 1:19 am

    My review is on Tuesday, but…


    Also, you mention NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Guess what movie my roommate was watching when I got back from the theatre. Trippy!

    • September 19, 2011 9:33 am

      Hahaha. Damn, can’t wait to read it. It deserves the love.

      If you switched Javier Bardem with Albert Brooks and Josh Brolin with Ryan Gosling, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of difference in terms of story. Not that that’s a bad thing though.

  2. September 19, 2011 8:47 am

    I am looking forward to this movie. Like you, I’m really taken with Ryan Gosling. And I like your writing style — funny and to the point. Count me as a new faithful reader. 😉

    • September 19, 2011 8:58 am

      Haha. Thanks! Really appreciate that. There is no denying the awesomeness that is Gosling and hope you like the movie when you see it. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. September 20, 2011 6:59 pm

    A man crush on Gosling, eh? I have to say, I was reluctant to hitch my ride to him when he first came around with Murder by Numbers and The Notebook – but he’s grown on me over the years. And he has a swagger about him – and you are right, he kills every role.

    I have to admit a major crush on Carey Mulligan – she is just too damn cute (and crazy talented, too). I would’ve liked to have seen more of Christina Hendricks as well.

    But only an 8? Sounds more like a 9 with all your gushing 🙂

  4. September 27, 2011 8:59 am

    Gosling’s never connected with me as a performer– I think he always feels like he’s acting– so I had some reservations about this despite the raves I’ve heard and despite my admiration for Refn. Neither man disappointed me here. Refn’s easily made his best movie yet, and Gosling finally has managed to turn out a real, bona fide performance (though I haven’t seen Blue Valentine yet) and create a timelessly cool sort of character.

    I loved this movie. It’s my favorite of the year without any debate. It’s cool, stylish, and slick, but not simply for the surface thrill that that coolness provides; it uses style and “cool” as a means to an end. Drive is about digging beneath that exterior– not just with the Driver, but with Bernie, Shannon, even Nino. Drive is about the truth that hides behind the swagger and the facade.

    And it’s ridiculously cool. It’s cooler than you. It’s cooler than me. It’s cooler than all of us, and that means it’ll stand the test of time. Twenty years from now when I’m halfway to the grave, Gosling will still be cooler than me in this movie.

    • October 14, 2011 5:41 pm

      Yeah, Gosling can’t be touched. Doesn’t hurt that he breaks up NYC street fights either. God, that guy is old school cool, borderline Steve McQueen shit (only without the whole wife-beating traits).

      Still need to see the Pusher trilogy before I can say anything about my favorite Refn movie, but of the ones I’ve seen, this is definitely his best effort yet behind the camera. So controlled, so slick, really is operating on another level that you can’t get no matter the budget.

      And I dig your breakdown of the depth behind the “cool.” Right there with ya’, was all part of the appeal. Loved all these characters and it’s really amazing how much they stand out with such little dialogue to remember them by. Gotta love movies that tell a story through action. Why does this have to be the exception?

  5. September 29, 2011 10:11 am

    I can understand why everyone is raving about Drive but for me it was frustrating. I loved the soundtrack and the mood and atmosphere it creates and the chemistry between Gosling and Mulligan and even the ending was right. But why did they have to overcook the violence so much? I mean, really… what was the point of that? It’s like ordering a fillet steak and then pouring ketchup all over it. ‘Stop! You’re ruining it!’.

  6. October 4, 2011 11:25 pm

    I do like this film a lot, but I think the Driver is a lot more complex than just a badass. There’s some psychotic tendencies underneath his cool, boyish exterior that made him more than just a guy looking cool in a jacket.

    • October 7, 2011 2:26 pm

      Great point and totally agree with you. Takes a special kind of guy to thump in a guy’s skull like that. Either that or the dude really had a thing for Carey Mulligan.

  7. October 13, 2011 5:00 pm

    Nice review, dude. Just saw this last weekend and was blown away. Loved the minimalistic dialogue and awesome cast. Great soundtrack, too.

    • October 14, 2011 5:29 pm

      Thanks, man! Yeah, this really did nail it on every front. The violence was pretty overkill, but really refreshing to see an outrageously cool movie like this that embraces the silence. Wish more film makers would get on that bandwagon.

  8. February 13, 2012 12:45 am

    I came to this review as Drive was my favorite movie of ’11 and one of my favorites of all time. I especially like your take on this being similar to No Country for Old Men as well.

    Not coming here to hawk my own goods but I put a “review” (more of an analysis and theme discussion) of the film on my site that I think you might enjoy.

    Thanks for the review and I’ll most definitely be around here to check more stuff out.

  9. February 13, 2012 1:05 am

    My bad… I should have linked directly to my article I mentioned

    And also, I’m a fellow searcher for the uses of an English degree.


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