The man drives (Ryan Gosling). He might have a name, but no one uses it as those older than him simply call him ‘kid’, while everybody else simply looks upon him oddly. The man also has issues. Deep rooted, intense, bloody scars of anger management issues. These issues of his aren’t easy to see because he’s so quiet and polite. But I see them plain as day. The movie is called ‘Drive’ and it is an American film crafted by Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn. A couple years ago Mr. Refn made a film called ‘Valhalla Rising’, which this movie bore some similarities to, despite the fact ‘Valhalla Rising’ was about Vikings and stuff, but both films centered around brooding, loner, quiet complete badasses with a penchant for beating people to death when provoked. I don’t know if ‘Drive’ is the best movie I’ve seen in a long time, but it is most certainly the coolest movie I’ve seen in long time. Albert Brooks – Gangster. You can’t get much cooler than that.
By day the young man does the occasional stunt work for the movies, or works at the garage of his friend Shannon’s (Bryan Cranston). By night, when the mood hits him, he’s The Wheelman. Not just any old wheelman, but the idiot savant of wheelmen. If this guy is driving you from your criminal gig, and you follow his strict rules, you WILL get away.
Then, as it tends to happen in movies, he meets her. Her being Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her precociously cute little boy Benicio (Kaden Leos). Since Irene’s husband is in jail, the young man helps her out, fixes her hooptie, befriends the boy, and before you know it he’s in love with her. She’s probably in love with him too, but her husband Standard (Oliver Isaac) is being released and neither of these young people are the types to jeopardize what could be a happy home. Besides, once we meet Standard we can see that he’s changed his ways and just wants to live right for his wife and son.
If only the people he used to work for felt that way. Let’s just say that Standard has one more job to pull and because the young man loves the girl and the boy, he’s going to help him pull off this job so they can stay safe.
To be charitable, the job doesn’t go all that well. Now there’s dead people all over the place, there’s a lot of money hanging in the balance, the girl and her son are as far from safe as safe can be and there are some angry, powerful people out there who want our driver dead. That’s bad for those angry, powerful people because this young man has issues. Anger management issues. And he’s about to work out some of these issues.
So what makes ‘Drive’ such a cool movie? A lot of stuff actually, starting with the late 80’s, early 90’s Michael Mann / Jan Hammer vibe the movie has working for it. Even the opening credit text with its neon / cursive font had a slick 90’s feel to it. Staying with the Michael Mann theme, and ignoring the advertising campaign which gives the illusion that ‘Drive’ is a pure action movie, ‘Drive’ relies more on atmosphere and mood than pulsing action and explosions. It is plenty violent, shockingly so at times, and the film does have an action scene or two strewn across its running time, but similar to a Michael Mann joint, it’s Refn’s judicious use of the sequences which makes them far more effective than say a film that relies on action alone to pull it through. Think giant robots smashing everything all the time. This movie is the antithesis of something like that.
Then there’s Albert Brooks as the heavy in this film. Think that can be construed as cool? Why yes it can. His character is presented as this realities version of Andy Sidaris, a 1980’s era exploitation film producer, and it’s not like the filmmakers changed Mr. Brooks signature acting style to turn him into Tony Montana or anything like that, just adjusted it a bit to create a slightly more menacing version of Albert Brooks, which worked to damn near perfection.
Naturally it’s Ryan Gosling and the dozen or so lines of dialog he had in the movie that brings it all together, taking over from James Franco as the ‘Top Brooding Actor’ of our day. In all seriousness Gosling does deliver a rather remarkable performance, because considering he didn’t have much to say in this movie, he had to convey everything about his character through emotions, gestures and reactions. And those sparse words he had? They weren’t empty filler, because when the driver had something to say, it had meaning and there were usually some dire ramifications and consequences to these words. We know next to nothing about this character as the movie begins, not even his name, and as the movie plays on there is very little explicitly stated about the driver to illuminate his past to us, but Goslings performance does a remarkable job of filling in the blanks, in the absence of exposition.
‘Drive’ is one fine film. It has a fairly standard story to tell, but this standard story is executed to near perfection by an excellent cast… we didn’t even get around to mentioning Ron Perlman, Cary Mulligan and Christina Hendricks… and crafted by a director who is approaching the top of his game. That giant robot movie we mentioned earlier will probably make a hundred times more money than this film, even though this movie is hundred times better than that movie, but that’s just the way that is.