You Gotta See This: Drive

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston

Rated R for strong, brutal, bloody violence, language and some nudity 2011, Drama/Action/ Noir

Compare to: Payback (1999), Brick (2005)

On one hand, Drive has already received enough critical praise as well as making five times it’s fairly low budget (profit of $75 million on a $15 million budget). On the other hand, much of the less vocal movie-going audience weren’t satisfied and so much so that it feels reasonable to add this to You Gotta See This. It’s also part 2 to my “Movies from 2011 that didn’t get as much attention as they should have,” the first being the Fright Night remake. Drive is like that meal you eat that isn’t light, but it doesn’t make you want to throw up everything you just ate from being too heavy. It’s just right.

A man (coolly known only as “The Driver”) is a getaway driver for criminals in whatever-they-pay-him-for schemes. He has his strict rules that he abides by to the letter and he is very good at what he does. By day, he’s a stunt driver for films and a mechanic with his partner and handler of sorts, Shannon (Bryan Cranston). After taking a liking to his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her child, The Driver becomes involved a robbery gone wrong thanks to his neighbor’s recently released from prison husband. Now, he has to find the people who set them up, make sure nobody touches Irene, and he’ll do whatever it takes.

This is one of those films that has a very simple set-up, yet presses all the right buttons. The driver motif may sound familiar to that of The Transporter (2003) yet couldn’t be more different in any other aspect. While Transporter was a loud, obnoxious gas-guzzler, Drive is a smooth-running classic. I’ve never particularly cared for Ryan Gosling in anything but I’ve never really had a problem with him either, but thanks to Drive, I’ll be interested in his next roles, one of them due out later this year with the same director, Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, 2008).

Gosling is a man of few words but his actions do all the talking. In a puffy, white, nearly reflective jacket with a massive golden scorpion on the back, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the Driver’s similar characteristics to the scorpion that covers him. A cold, relentless survivalist, the actions Gosling’s character takes are in quick, violent bursts of energy that put you in the moment in a way movies just don’t do very often. His backstory a mystery to us, The Driver feels like an absolute character, comparable to the feeling Nolan wanted to give us with The Dark Knight’s Joker and they do it well. You’re not sure how far the Driver is going to go to complete his mission. He makes it clear that his own safety isn’t an issue and neither are his victims. The violence is infrequent but impactful.

Gosling deserves credit definitely, but it’d be wrong to leave out anybody in the cast. Oscar Isaac (Robin Hood, 2010, Sucker Punch, 2011) plays Standard, Irene’s husband who’s just been released from prison and for the short time he’s out, he’s not having much fun. Besides being beaten up with a debt rising from the mob, it’s clear he has his suspicions of the Driver and Irene. While I haven’t been too familiar with Isaac until recently, the role he’s got in this could’ve easily been unlikable and/or forgettable, but Isaac plays him with a humanity usually reseved for central characters. Bryan Cranston (TV’s Breaking Bad) is great also. His character seems to always be looking for his big break after he’s probably already passed any opportunities he might have had before. So while Cranston comes across as a little shady and untrustworthy, it’s not in a sneaky, conniving way, so much as it is him trying to get out of his head-above-water lifestyle. That, and just generally being a screw-up.

Ron Perlman’s role as Nino, the reckless, violent mob boss is truly hateable the way a nasty character like this should be. It’s that kind of character you just hope something terrible will happen to him. Albert Brooks is Perlman’s partner, Bernie Rose, a man just as despicable as Nino, but much better at hiding it. Him and Gosling have one of my favorite interactions in the film.

Rose: Nice to meet you.

(Bernie sticks out his hand to shake; Driver does not take it)

Driver: My hands are a little dirty.

Rose: So are mine.

This movie is full of clever dialogue like this, with undertones in everything. It’s even imbedded in the clothes of the characters: while Gosling starts out with his clean scorpion jacket, ironed jeans and slick boots, the deeper he gets in with these driminals and thugs throughout the movie, the dirtier and bloodier his outfit gets. But like his demeanor, he doesn’t change. One thing I’ve always thought was intersting was the title alone. Obviously he drives, and while there’s the possible allusion to the determination of the character to make things right, there’s also a possible third meaning of a “death drive” which I’ve found to be true to Gosling’s character, which makes me appreciate it even more.

Something I’m not going to be able to escape mentioning is the music of the film. All of the music, including the score have a distinctly 80’s new wave feel that puts the movie into a category of it’s own and stands out as one that doesn’t take itself deathly seriously with a screaming rock n’ roll soundtrack. Don’t get me wrong, a screaming rock n’ roll soundtrack can be great and I loved it in The Matrix (1999), but this is something all it’s own. The Driver’s theme and standout track would definitely have to be College’s “A Real Hero.” Upon first hearing it, I feel like I’m watching a John Hughes movie. The blood and the car chases and the head stomping bring me back to what I’m really watching though. The frequently used neon pinks during the movie only further the retro feel.

I’ll end this article soon, so as not to give away my favorite parts of the film, but last but not least, I leave you with a link to an article displaying a person (and perhaps the justice system)’s intolerance and sheer stupidity toward anything remotely different. As a summary, she actually tried to sue the film studio and distributor for [paraphrasing] advertising the movie as a film similar to The Fast and Furious movies. Besides the fact that the action itself is greedy and pathetic, I don’t know why you’d want a Fast and Furious clone anyway. Those movies Suck.

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