The car stuff is cool, the driving is wicked good, the photography stylish and memorable, and the sound editing is so good the theatre shakes when the guns go boom.
Danish Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, ’08) is without a doubt a new talent on the scene. Drive, however, is just another case of style over substance.
I predict that once Refn has a quality script land on his desk, kind of the way Bryan Singer scored with Christopher McQuarrie and The Usual Suspects (1995), he will be a storyteller as well as a filmmaker.
But not yet, not with Drive. Not enough there there. Adapted from the 2005 James Sallis novels, it’s just another “heist gone wrong, let’s wait and see how violently the hero gets the bad guys” flick.
I have grown to like Ryan Gosling. Might have taken me longer than others – Half Nelson (2006) was just okay, Lars and the Real Girl (2007) pretty forgettable – but Blue Valentine (2010) won me over big time; and he followed that up impressively with George Clooney’s The Ides of March. I now see that not only are his acting wheels spinning but he is connecting the dots.
Not so much in Drive, though.
Gosling comes off plenty calm, cool, and collected, maybe even a poor man’s Steve McQueen, but all that silence needs to add up to a little more. And by silence I’m sayin’ that Gosling’s ‘Driver’ doesn’t speak much – at all. He makes the ‘Chief’ from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest look like Joy Behar.
To compound matters, we are force-fed a love story up top that feels too convenient and manipulative.
The ‘Driver’ gets involved early in the film with a young gal in the apartment next door who he shares elevator rides with. She has a cute little boy in tow. Their scenes consist of long pauses, impish grins, and shifty eye exchanges.
Apparently, her husband (Oscar Isaac, who I loved in SuckerPunch) is in prison, thus allowing her to wander around making goo goo eyes at strangers. Really quiet strangers. In elevators.
British import Carey Mulligan plays the girl next door, literally, and guess what? She doesn’t speak much either. So there ya go. A whole lot of pregnant pauses with us holding the bag and trying to read between their lines. Supposed to come off as sexy, but kind of comes off boring.
And this may sound superficial, but I just don’t find Mulligan as adorable as everyone else seems to. I wasn’t won over like most in An Education (2009) or the unfortunate new Wall Street (2010). I’ll admit she’s cute, but in a 12-year-old boy kind of way. No surprise the filmmakers also plugged in Mad Men’s buxom Christina Hendricks to satisfy the men in the audience who prefer women.
In an interesting and effective casting stunt, Albert Brooks plays the villain. He’s good. But for those of us who loved him in Lost In America (1985) and Broadcast News (1987), this soils the legacy a bit.
The film does have an interesting and somewhat hypnotic soundtrack (mostly Cliff Martinez) that works with the imagery. However, the final Electric Youth song and its repetitious lyric we are left with as the credits roll kind of summed it up for me.
“And a real hero…real human being.”
I don’t think the filmmakers were being ironic – Gosling’s character is neither. He’s just a ‘Driver’ stuck in a ho-hum story.