In the opening sequence of this crime drama, Ryan Gosling is introduced as a getaway driver for two faceless thugs stealing money from some unknown destination. The scene builds to what will be an inevitable chase scene between them and the cops. Tension mounts as a creeping Cat & Mouse game plays out with them slowly trying to sneak down the streets of LA without being spotted. Surely, this car chase scene is gonna be epic and kick this movie off in full throttle. But no. It never comes. In fact, the sequence involves slow driving, methodical evasion moves and an anticlimactic getaway. Never once is any of it boring though. And this sets the tone of Drive.
Drive is a gritty crime movie that takes place in LA but we're not sure when due to a misleading soundtrack choice of heart-pounding synth pop and cliche costume choices. These were deliberate choice by director Nicolas Winding Refn, who directed the brilliant Bronson in 2008, which introduced the world to Tom Hardy (Warrior, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises). I'm sure he also had a call in the promotion of this film that uses hot pink '80s style font for all the advertising and credits. Coupled with the heavy female soundtrack and Gosling's adorable manboy face, you'd expect this to be a film about crime that's made for women. A warning to all lovers of The Notebook, this is not the Ryan you're expecting.
Drive is one of the most violent movies I've ever seen. Sure there are movies like Saving Private Ryan or Nightmare on Elm Street that are officially more violent, but Drive is filled with unexpected brutality. This is NOT a film for the slight of heart. Some of the scenes generated audible gasps from the audience and people turned away from the screen. In some cases, people got up and left the theater. Yes, some of this violence is gratuitous but never once does it not fit the tone of the film. It's all done for a reason and in some cases even meant to be playful.
The entire cast is brilliant. It also features Carey Mulligan (An Education), Ron Pearlman (Hellboy), Bryan Cranston (AMC's Breaking Bad) and comedian Albert Brooks (Mother, Finding Nemo) as an Oscar-caliber villain. He is a perfect baddie and nobody would EVER have guessed that. It's that kind of risky choices that makes Drive and Refn's vision that deserves top notice from people.
All that being said, this is not a movie for mass audiences. It has a pace that is slow and deliberate. The film takes itself more seriously than it deserves but that can be overlooked. Gosling's character, who is only listed in the credits as "Driver," is mysterious and a man of few words. He says very little and Refn allows moments of the film to go on in complete silence for agonizing amounts of time. However, after a full viewing, I'm sure those pregnant pauses are far more important and justified on a second enjoyment.
There are few movies that, after I see them, I look forward to seeing again as soon as possible; Drive is one of them though. It's not a classic story of a criminal with a heart of gold. It's a story of a criminal who tries to do the right thing after falling in love, but displays acts of violence that suggests an almost psychotic and homicidal maniac past. Gosling does a stellar job showing that without ever saying a word. But again, don't go into Drive with any pretense. It's not Fast and the Furious filled with amazing car chase scenes! It's not The Notebook filled with passionate love scenes. It's brutal, weird and inspired! It's one of those movies that makes you think you just saw something important...even if you're not 100% sure what you just saw.
Drive (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A