“Drive” (Movie Review)

September 20, 2011

“Drive” arrives like a breath of fresh air after a thoroughly underwhelming summer movie season. “The Lincoln Lawyer” and “Thor” showed tentative promise of a good summer season back in late spring, but mostly the summer failed to deliver on that promise in terms of quality films. “The Help” reminded viewers of what great acting and emotional connectivity could do for a film and now “Drive” packages almost everything about harder-edged great movies in one: an excellent cast, complex characters, masterfully edited action sequences, subtle narrative flourishes, thematic brilliance, a great score and soundtrack, and a strong story overall.

“Drive” is an excellent mixture of art-house film and noir crime thriller. After a brilliant opening car chase in which a perfect combination of visual editing and sound place the viewer directly in the car to where we feel every twist, turn, and moment of tension, the movie eases back for the rest of the first half into its art-house aspect, making select use of action until the final arc which incessantly pulls the strings razor taut. “Drive” is not an easy picture–it’s tense, violent and ugly, yet it refuses to become soulless which is what makes it such a nice arrival this early in the fall movie season. When violence comes, it comes brutally and shocking–I’ve seen a number of horror films in my life and even of the gore-heavy ’80s slasher films, few ever made me jump or punched me in the gut the way key scenes in this film did. By the time we arrive at the vengeance sequences, director Nicolas Refn and screenwriter Hossein Amini (adapting a novel by James Sallis) deliver us classic crime pulp ala Westlake or Chandler by way of visceral horror writers Clive Barker or Jack Ketchum.

Did I mention the terrific cast? Carey Mulligan as the female lead is adorable, and graceful yet tragic and heartbreaking as she is so capable of being in almost any role she fills. “Breaking Bad”s Bryan Cranston is a nice touch as is “Mad Men”s Christina Hendricks. Albert Brooks eschews comedy (which I’ve never found him good in) for an intense, dark, villainous role. And of course, Ryan Gosling gives us a slow-burn portrayal of the stoic protagonist who displays increasingly bizarre flashes of rage and violence–Gosling’s performance and role gave many viewers grief in that many of his motivations and thoughts–even his name–are withheld. Gosling’s “Driver” character is a European and Asian film archetype like any good classic first-wave noir or Japanese samurai character in which much is left open, unrevealed, and up for guesses. “Drive” doesn’t offer full answers and boring extrapolation on every nuance and meaning–the filmmakers assume we are smart enough to ponder that ourselves and if not, to strap in for a roller-coaster ride. In a winking bit of meta-fiction, Albert Brooks’ character Bernie Rose talks about how in the ’80s he financed many sexy, violent, artistic action pictures critics labeled “European”–nodding to what the filmmakers likely preemptively assumed critics would say about their own work as well as the ’80s aesthetic which was oddly yet intriguingly added to “Drive,” in its score, soundtrack, title art, and often its overall feel. That ’80s aesthetic added a great extra layer to the film yet since the setting and technology were kept current it didn’t devolve into a vapid nostalgia action piece.

Anyway, go see “Drive” in the theater if you want to see a complex, artistic, thrilling, shocking, original homage to all things great about global noir filmmaking that makes no concessions–easily the greatest American crime picture since “The Departed.”

rating: 10/10

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One Response to ““Drive” (Movie Review)”

  1. […] “Drive” was my favorite film of the year when I walked out of the theater in September and it still is today. Flipping through “Rolling Stone” magazines 2011 in Review issue I noticed they chose it as number 1 as well. It’s unlikely any “serious” panels will and I don’t see an Oscar nomination in its future, and that’s a shame because this was the best made film of the year. Other films portray great stories that could also work well in other mediums but no other film this year took advantage of the film-medium itself in the way “Drive” did–it does so in as exciting of  a way as “Pulp Fiction” did at its release. “Drive” is simply too ambigious, too dark, too bloody, too “messy” and unresolved to be an Oscar picture. But it’s a classic picture nonetheless. Read my full review here. […]

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