Review of Drive


Movie Review: "Drive" --

Rating: (Strong, brutal, bloody violence, language, some nudity)
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: September 16, 2011
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Action movies are not known for nuanced performances or great plot devices. Mostly, they are considered summer popcorn flicks where lots of stuff blows up and the women are primarily eye candy. This is simply not the case with "Drive," which is a moody, dramatic action film where the plot and dialogue are as essential to the film as the action.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn took a big chance by casting Ryan Gosling in the main role because he is mostly known for dramatic or romantic turns. Here, he is the lead who is as mysterious as he is good at his multiple driving jobs. In fact, we never learn the name of our protagonist, who is simply billed as "Driver" in the credits. What we do glean about Driver comes mostly from Gosling's use of subtle facial tics and how smooth he is under pressure. He is a man of few words, but those few words are usually dripping with meaning.

Driver works as a stunt car driver on Hollywood sets during the day. He also has a night job where he drives getaway cars for bank robbers and other thieves. The movie opens with a whirlwind of a scene, where Driver methodically loses several cop cars with driving so skilled and precise you might think it was done by a machine instead of a man. Even when it looks like he is going to get caught, Driver exudes cool and never betrays any worry on his face. It is just him, his trusty driving gloves, and his ever-present toothpick hanging out of his mouth.

He lives in a small apartment complex with the beautiful Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos) as his neighbors. With all the money he earns from his night job, Driver could surely live in a better place than this dump. The fact that he does live a minimalist lifestyle is meant to show how little he cares for material things.

He does seem to care about Irene and Benicio, though. He has had a few run-ins with Benicio in the hallways as they go to take out their garbage. He is invited over for a meal and genuinely enjoys the banality of watching television with Benicio. Though he barely betrays it on his face, Driver seems to be falling in love with Irene. Unfortunately, she has a husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), who is due to get out of prison soon.

Once Standard returns, Driver tries to lay low but Standard is having none of it. He has heard his boy gushing about Driver and is suspicious about the nature of the relationship while he was locked up. In a quick twist of events, Standard gets into trouble with some baddies who threaten to kill him. Driver saves his life by offering his driving services free of charge to the bad guys, with the proviso that they spare Standard's life, as well as Irene's and Benicio's. They agree and a plan is set up.

Meanwhile, Driver has the opportunity to do some professional race car driving if he can get someone to sponsor him. His friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston) gets him an interview of sorts with crime boss Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his right-hand man, the compulsive and sociopathic Nino (Ron Perlman).

These two sides of Driver's world soon begin to clash. He figures out that not only was the job that Standard's would-be killers sent him on a set-up, but Bernie and Nino were involved as well. Just like the exhilarating opening scenes, Driver barely flinches as he devises a plan to set things straight.

Gosling turns in a fantastic performance, but his is not the only one that is great. Albert Brooks, mostly known for his comedy writing and performances, is perfectly cast as Bernie Rose. His crime boss is very serious but also has some moments of levity, which are very welcome in such a tense movie. Ron Perlman overacts a bit but perfectly shows us just how little regard Nino has for anyone's life but his own. Even the very short cameo from "Mad Men's" Christina Hendricks is perfectly cast.

The score by Cliff Martinez combined with Refn's deft directing hand make for a visually and audibly stunning piece of work. Clocking in at a taut 100 minutes, nothing in this film drags. Every scene is essential to the plot; there are no fillers here. The viewer really has to pay attention to the dialogue and the action, making "Drive" the ultimate thinking man's action film.