DRIVE steers & veers around a soundtrack-preset obstacle course of auto-noir pretension and faulty relationship gaskets, thanks to the assured eye-hand coordinating skill of director Nicholas Winding Refn. He seams with cameraman Newton Thomas Sigel and editor Mat Newman to vividly summon under-belly Los Angeles locations in a way that’s both fresh (it came out in 2011) and retro (summoning the 80s). The sleek look and forward momentum zoom over speed bumps of credibility with an offbeat but game cast until it finally makes a jarring hard right at the off-ramp of West Unlikely & 101. You’ve been taken for a ride.
‘Driver’ (Ryan Gosling)—no name needed because, see, he’s SO COOL—stunt-drives for movies and works as autoshop mechanic for mentor ‘Shannon’ (Bryan Cranston), who also sets him up for heist getaway-driver gigs on the side. Shannon’s in league with gangsters (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). When a job involving cornered ex-con ‘Standard’ (Oscar Isaac) goes bad, Driver seeks to safeguard ‘Irene’ (Carey Mulligan), Standard’s disaffected wife— who Driver has been developing a thing for/with— and then settle serious scores with sell-outs. Payment will be in full.
Fine, we dig— a smoking new peel-out on a Steve McQueen style actioner. Alas, the writing from Hossein Amini (taken from a story by genre novelist James Sallis) is so spare there’s nothing left but space; save one, the characters are so flimsy the actors rip fingernails seeking a grip. Amini is hit & miss with his scripts (The Four Feathers remake a dead duck, The Two Faces Of January, which he also directed, a nifty sleeper) but this one, matched with Refn’s clinical austerity (before the blood gush starts, anyway) is Empty masked as Heavy.
Gosling looks good concentrating behind the wheel, but as written, directed and performed his Driver is frozen in PARK, and the painfully obtuse romantic business with Mulligan is just ridiculous, even as pulp fodder not believable in the slightest. Characterization and acting honors go to Brooks and Isaac, with Brooks genial, matter-of-fact but not-really-kidding hood stealing the movie out from under the blanks inhabited Gosling and Mulligan.
Oscar-nominated for Sound Editing. Falling in predictable line to fawn over the art & craft of the director, reviews overpraised it like it was a groundbreaking new model sportster that ran on oxygen; rush-thirsty audiences readily covered its $15,000,000 bet by shelling out $76,175,000, 92nd place for the year. With Christina Hendricks, Kaden Leos, James Biberi and Russ Tamblyn (blink & miss). 100 minutes.
LOL pit stop. Thanks to the line-crossing of the old taste v. violence quotient, this style opus features a skull-bashing. Before filming, Refn asked director Gaspar Noé how he’d managed the same for Irreversible (speaking of truly sick). Refn’s kicks, with Driver, Irene and an ominous hit man sharing an elevator, starts with Driver and Irene kissing tenderly and ends with Driver centipede-stomping hit-dudes head into the floor. A writer for the L.A. Times offered that this bash-action “makes Irene see Driver in a new light.” Refn: “Every movie has to have a heart—a place where it defines itself…I realized I needed to show in one situation that Driver is the hopelessly romantic knight, but he’s also completely psychotic…”
Well, a man’s gotta do, and Pulp demands a pulping, but if it gets foot-to-jaw with nominating an All-Time Face-Plant Flourish we’d have to vote for Vince Vaughan, bringing down the boots of wrath in Brawl In Cell Block 99. They left out the kiss part in that one.