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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 09.16.11] movie review news action drama crime

Year: 2011
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer: Hossein Amini, James Sallis (book)
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 9 out of 10

Nicolas Winding Refn is a ballsy guy. He takes common, run of the mill stories and delivers art; highly entertaining art. It's a gift, and one some directors simply don't have but which Refn has been delivering from the get go. It's no surprise he can direct a highly entertaining action film, anyone familiar with The Pusher trilogy is aware of that, but the mix of commercial appeal and Refn's uniquely brutal and gloriously flamboyant style has reached its peak synthesis with Drive. If anyone can resurrect Logan's Run and deliver a unique, beautiful, action-filled story, there is no doubt that Refn is the man for the job.

Adapted from James Sallis' novel by Hossein Amini, Drive stars Ryan Gosling as Driver. You never get his name, it's not important since he's just the nameless hero who comes and goes with the wind. He's precise, direct and distanced. He's not one to make friends easily but when he does, he'll go out of his for them. Enter Irene, the next door neighbour with a young child who befriends Driver. When Irene's husband is released from prison and some shady characters come knocking, threatening to kill him and his family, Driver steps in to provide his services. Things go wrong, people get killed, Driver gets angry in his quiet way, and in the end no one ends up happy.

The plot is significant for exactly one reason: to show how typical this material is. What isn't typical is the way in which it is delivered. If Drive was directed by a Hollywood gun-for-hire, it would fall completely flat. Sure, it may have a couple of big budget chase sequences but they'd end in explosions and totalled vehicles. The balance of style and substance would likely be lost. Drive's opening scene clearly marks it as different. It's not a pedal to the metal chase through the streets of LA (though there is a bit of that) instead, it's a smart driver's getaway, a dance between the chaser and the chased, which starts and stops and requires thinking in addition to precision driving. But it's not really about the driving. It's about everything else.

On paper, this looks like not only your run-of-the-mill Hollywood schlock, but the kind that you shake your head at. The romance between Gosling's Driver and Irene (Carey Mulligan) is languidly spread through the film's first half with little talk. There are long looks, quick glances, smiles, a touching of the hand, all of it with limited dialogue. For that matter, Driver hardly talks so when he does, you pay close attention. There are subtle signs of Refn's lighter side: the opening and closing credits in a very bright pink handwritten script more associated with a romance than an action movie, Driver's jacket which few other actors could pull off and which is quite similar to Rocky's tiger-backed version, and the music which feels like it was pulled directly from an 80s action flick. For a time I was convinced that Drive was a period piece, even though the Chevy used in the first opening sequence is new, but with all the other 80's flags, I figured I didn't look at the car cloasely enough. It would be an easy way to explain some of these excentricities but then Driver steals a shinny new Mustang. Definitely not period.

Driver himself is stoic. This is pretty much the Gosling show (supported by great performances from Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston) and he plays the character as calm cool and collected. He never raises his voice but there's a tone to it that urges you to listen and listen closely. I love that we know little about his past but there are hints that he has never been particularly happy; his insular living, his coldness towards strangers, his quick turn to brutality and the way in which he clings to those he has connected with. He embodies the ultimate cool action movie hero, complete with toothpick and theme song and though there's an urge to laugh as he drives into the sunset, without the girl, with College's "A Real Hero" playing in the background, I found my giggle escaped not because the scene doesn't work but because it works despite the clichés. It's blatant and obvious, as if Refn is winking at the audience and those that got it, lapped it up.

As much as this art-house actioner deserves to be a box office smash, I have my doubts that it will capture wide-spread audiences. True, the movie blogging and critics community are praising the film in unison, but the general buzz after the pre-screening I attended was mixed. Some found it slow (did we watch the same movie?), others complained that there was too much brutality (it's not frivolous but Refn doesn't shy away from a bit of blood and brains) and others didn't care for the music (?!) but those who let themselves be washed in the greatness will emerge refreshed and wanting more.

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CAK (10 years ago) Reply

Well it definitely wasn't slow, and the acting was very good but I wasn't enthralled with this movie. It had some great little touches, a particulary brutal fight only shown in shadow, the Driver walking around with his progressively more blood-stained jacket like it's the most normal thing in the world, but the over obvious music editing and choices killed it for me.
I also noticed the really ugly pink retro style titles and my immediate thought was to the 80's movies that I despised which probably explains why The Driver didn't work for me.


agentorange (10 years ago) Reply

Refn is one of the best genre directors around. Brings a certain Euro flare to, as you say above, what would be standard schlock in another's hands. Looking forward to seeing it this weekend.


Ivan (10 years ago) Reply

I loved the retro touch. Actually it is one of the few things that make this movie so cool. Great music, great titles.


j.j. (10 years ago) Reply

It didn't work for me either. The story wasn't anything particularly special, and a lot of the performances had very long gaps in between the dialogue and the blocking was a little robotic. That being said, the music was great and I really liked the cinematography. I loved the retro style but the ending was a massive let down. Not quite the masterpiece it was hyped to be, but a good film none-the-less.


masque36 (10 years ago) Reply

Drive the movie delivered exactly what James Sallis book conveyed. This is not your typical Hollwood movie but if you can open your mind and follow the story and characters you will enjoy the ride. Kudos to Refn he nailed the original source material.


trinityof1 (10 years ago) Reply

If you like drive wait till you see the film No One, currently in production. it the story of a man his father trained him all his life to fight/shoot/survivie, ww2 breaks out and no army wants him. the bring the war to him, his town, based on a true story of a village in europe where any soldier that entered died. true story. sometimes the best for a job never get the chance

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