I see you Ryan Gosling. And I am not mad at all. 2011 is shaping up to be quite the year for Gosling. He was in the heartfelt Crazy, Stupid, Love earlier this year alongside Steve Carell. Next month he will star with George Clooney in the political thriller The Ides of March. But it’s his current feature Drive that’s got me so intrigued. What a unique, cool movie. It might not satisfy everyone’s cinematic tastebuds, but I thought it was so nice I had to see it twice.
I never heard of director Nicolas Winding Refn (what a name) before this movie, but the cinematography was amazing. L.A. was shot beautifully, the night sky slick, cool and foreboding while the daylight shots were warm and sun-drenched. Certain cities add a distinct feel to a movie, if filmed with a deft hand. Drive reminded me of other dark tales woven in the City of Angels, like Collateral and Heat (both directed by Michael Mann). Of course I’m not saying this guy is as good as Mann, but he made L.A. look cool and sexy. And isn’t it? Anyway, Drive is appropriately titled. The movie opens with Gosling’s character pulling a job for some unknown boss. He is a getaway driver, a Wheel Man. He’s not involved in the heist/murder/random illegal act that requires flight, but he is the man who will make sure you get away cleanly. If you follow his guidelines. There’s a five minute window. He won’t be armed and he won’t participate – but he’ll drive. Once those 5 minutes are up – you’re on your own. We’re introduced to Gosling as a methodical, deliberate, solitary figure. Clearly adept at his trade, he doesn’t say much and casts a mysterious shadow. We learn that he’s managed to also make a legit career of his driving skills, as he is a stunt driver in movies. If Our Driver’s professional life seems dangerous and exciting – his personal life is decidedly more tranquil.
Again, Gosling is a solitary figure. He doesn’t have much in the way of companionship, other than his boss on the movie set, Shannon. That changes when he befriends his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) and her young son Benicio. Irene sort of looks like Tinkerbell with her baby face, pixie haircut, and sweet disposition. She and Gosling have a timid chemistry, and there are a lot of scenes where they just sort of stare at each other and blush quietly. These scenes didn’t bother me, but I know some other viewers found it plodding. Things get more interesting when Shannon approaches Gosling with the opportunity to race on a professional circuit, in a stock car. By the way, I keep calling him Gosling because his name is never revealed. When the credits rolled he was listed simply as ‘Driver.’ Anyway, Shannon secured financial backing for the stock car from Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman, Hellboy), two underworld figures who probably have their hands in all kinds of chit. Meanwhile, although Irene and Gosling have become fast friends and he is becoming a pseudo big brother/father figure for Benicio, she makes it clear early on that his father (her husband!), a dude named Standard, is in prison. When she finds out that he’s getting released soon, we can only wonder what this will mean for her burgeoning relationship with Gosling. Surprisingly, Standard just seems grateful that Gosling was a friend to Irene in his absence. He wants to atone for his misdeeds and just live a normal life with his family. Unfortunately, it never works out that way, does it? Some gangsters to whom he owes protection money want him to pull a job to satisfy his debt. When he refuses, they beat him to a pulp and threaten to return for Irene and Benicio if he doesn’t comply. It is here that our reluctant hero emerges. Our Driver feels a kinship with Standard and a certain affinity for Irene and Benicio. He agrees to be Standard’s Wheel Man for the job, on the condition that the job satisfies any remaining debt and that Irene and Benicio can live in peace. That’s the plot for you, in a nutshell.
Drive had the emotional weight of a character study, but there wasn’t enough dialogue for me to call it that. The entire movie felt stripped down, much like the main character. It was slick and atmospheric; thanks to the 80’s sounding score that permeated most of the movie and the way Gosling filled every frame he was in. I don’t find him to be attractive in the most traditional sense, but my goodness the camera really loved him in this movie. The word swag is dead, but I have to say that his was on a hundred, thousand, trillion in this movie. His demeanor was even-keeled initially, with just the hint of rage lying beneath the surface. He’s a criminal, but he’s only the getaway driver. Initially we have to wonder if this is an indication that he’s soft in some way, but those doubts are quickly put to rest as Gosling begins to stomp and thrash his way through the movie. I thought the plot and script were interesting, though not entirely unique. Very slick and stylized, with the violence of Tarantino minus all the dialogue. If you don’t mind letting your movies simmer a while before they come to a fantastic boil – this is one to see.