Classic Movie Review: Drive (2011)

Drive is about a stoic, reserved nameless man, in the credits he's listed as Driver, who works for a mechanic and stunt coordinator for movies. The mechanic, Shannon, gets the Driver mixed up in the world of crime by recommending him to be the wheelman for heists. In the midst of wanting to go legit as a stock car racing team, Shannon borrows money from Bernie, a mob enforcer, putting the Driver and his budding love for unavailable neighbor Irene, at risk. The deal, as all deals do, comes crumbling down around them after Irene's husband Standard is released from prison. The film stars Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac, and Albert Brooks. It is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and written by Hossein Amini.


This film is beautiful. Top to bottom, actor to actress, scene to scene, serenity to brutal violence, this is a gorgeous film to watch. It's a buffet of incredible cinematic detail from Newton Thomas Sigel's lighting and camera movements, to Matthew Newman's well crafted editing, to Cliff Martinez pulsing, breathing score, and absolutely to Erin Benach's glorious, detailed costumes. Nicolas Winding Refn put together a phenomenal team to create this work of art.


What makes Drive an even more superb production is that there's not a bit of fat to be trimmed. At 100 minutes of runtime you'll be just as satisfied as if it were a two and a half hour movie because its scenes flow succinctly to the next like we're being driven on a long straight stretch of road. Drive is so slick that within its crime drama facade, a luscious love story is able to play out. Every look between the Driver and Irene is achingly timed and every moment they're together is full of depth and yearning. There's so much passion without their mouths being filled with useless dialogue.


Being a film with little fat, Drive doesn't waste time with exposition that's unnecessary. You pick up everything from clues, gestures, and cinematic language. If you hadn't put together the clues you may not see what's hiding just behind the Driver's exquisite blue eyes. That power, ferocity and passion is in his every shy movement from the beginning, but especially in his eyes. The Driver observes without interjecting. He finds his moments, his perfect ins and outs. He knows the roads and he knows the board like a chess player thinking many moves ahead. It's an incredible puzzle to piece together.


Though, being so slick and razor thin, the film can leave things behind to be forgotten too easily. I'm referring here to Blanche played by Christina Hendricks. Blanche is underserved by the story. She's introduced a little clumsily and almost unnecessarily. The only purpose she serves is to transfer one bag to the Driver, then supply him with a name and then she's thrown away. She's tossed to the wind never to be mentioned again despite her prominence. It's a strange piece of the puzzle and ends entirely too gruesomely for my liking. If I were to change one thing, I would find a way to better serve Blanche and highlight the talents of Christina Hendricks.


Drive is a film populated by superior performances. Bryan Cranston is great as desperate and greedy mechanic Shannon. Ron Perlman always plays a good heavy and here he's great as Nino. Oscar Isaac before he is Oscar Isaac as Standard brings the intensity we will all know well enough in later roles. Carey Mulligan is heart breaking as Irene who just wants a sense of peace and normality. Albert Brooks is impeccable as Bernie, the sharp, dangerous mob enforcer. Yet, the central performance of Ryan Gosling as the Driver leaves me aghast.


Gosling is an incredibly handsome man and he cuts an impressive figure on screen. His eyes will penetrate you with lust and with abject fear. He brings that intensity whether he's in a staring contest with young Benecio, pining after Irene, or about to use a hammer to insert a bullet into a man's head. Covered in blood, kicking a man's head in or stealing your heart with a smile, Gosling perfectly understands who this man is and while he doesn't say it out loud, he moves and looks and acts everything we need to know to utter beauty.


Drive may be a near perfect film in its depth, nuance and gorgeous visuals. Yet, I would very much say it's not for everyone. There are long stretches where the characters exist in silence, the violence, while spare, is aggressively brutal, and the plot may be hard to put together on a first watch. Though, I would encourage any and all of you to give it a shot. It's worth every one of those 100 minutes.

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