Sunday, September 18, 2011

Drive One Thrilling Commute


The rumbling started early in the theatre, at first it was just a few snide comments here and there. By the time the credits started to role the crumbling had reached its crescendo when one viewer yelled out “this is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.” While each person is entitled to their own opinion, it was clear that the majority of the audience was anticipating a completely different film than what they got. The marketing campaign is trying to sell Drive as a film that is in the same vein as The Transporter series, when in fact it is a far slicker film noir that does not mainly rely on “fist of fury” to advance the plot.

Ryan Gosling continues his string of stirring performances as an unnamed man, referred to as “Driver”, who has an unbelievable talent when it comes to cars. Working as both a mechanic and a part-time film stunt-driver, Driver tends to keep to himself. He barely talks to his boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston). This all changes when Driver meets and falls for his next door neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan), a single mother whose husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is unexpectedly released from prison early. Standard owes money to some men who are threatening to harm Irene and his son Benicio (Kaden Leos), if he does not agree to rob a pawn shop. Fearing for Irene and Benicio’s safety, Driver volunteers to be Standard’s getaway driver. What Driver does not know is that the money they are about to steal belongs to local gangsters Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman).

Drive is very reminiscent of the action thrillers that the likes of Michael Mann and Brian De Palma use to make in the 80’s. Nicolas Winding Refn infuses the picture with his unique style which allows the film to separate itself from contemporary action films. One thing audiences will notice immediately is how little dialogue is spoken by the protagonist. While Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman play their scenes large, Gosling is always internalizing his emotions. There are numerous scenes in which Refn lets the camera quietly linger on Driver’s face as the character works things out. Having an action film that is filled with more quite moments than heart stopping action is almost unheard of in an age where action films are usually filled with loud explosions.

This is not to say that Drive is devoid of action, in fact the film has several great action scenes. The major difference here is that scenes of violence flourish as a result of the silence that often precedes it. Like most of Refn’s films the violence is brutal and unflinching, but never reaches the point of being gratuitous. Refn also keeps the action leaning towards the more realistic side of things. There is no scene where Driver is in a shootout with eight guys at once, nor is there a scene where Driver is jumping out of a building just before it explodes. The final action sequence may seem underwhelming to those expecting a standard action film ending, yet in the context of the world that Refn has created, the sequence works extremely well.

Refn is meticulous with how he orchestrates both his action scenes as well as his quieter moments. In one tense elevator scene, Driver slowly moves the unaware Irene behind him for safety. The use of lighting in this scene is brilliant. Refn first darkens the elevator to accentuate the pending violence, but then brightens the light on Irene to symbolize her character’s awakening. In the span of a few minutes Irene shares a romantic moment with Driver and also realizes his tendency towards violence. It is moments like these that make Drive such a thrill to watch.


  1. What part of "Drive, starring Ryan Gosling" didn't people understand? Misleading trailer aside (though I don't think it is), when Ryan Gosling is starring, you're pretty much guaranteed that the film is higher functioning than you're regular low-functioning action flick. I don't think he's ever done a film that strays toward the cliche. People may not like all his film choices, but at least he's got a high standard for himself. I can't wait to see this. Great review, Courtney!

  2. @dEmon - My cousin and I caught the late show at Scotiabank and the audience skewed younger (i.e. late teens to early twenties). Judging by the comments throughout the film, it was clearly a crowd more suited for films like The Transporter, Crank, etc.. We seemed to be the only ones who loved the film.

  3. Excellent review! Thought this was an intelligent action flick. Loved Albert Brooks and Cranston in this too.

  4. Absolutely loved this movie. It saddens me that the word of mouth is so poor (it received a dismal C- CinemaScore from exit polling). What were people expecting? Fast and Furious??? Nicely written review CS!

  5. @Ty- Cranston and Brooks were both fantastic, I especially liked Cranston's character in particular.

    @Castor - I think that is exactly what people are expecting. When walking out of the theatre, I expressed to my cousin that Drive is destined to become a cult film. It is too smart a genre film, in regards to its artistic choices (i.e. limited dialogue, sporadic harsh violence, etc.), for those who simply want to see things blow up.

  6. I rarely read reviews prior to watching the film and writing my own, but your title and opening line intrigued me...and i'm glad I read on!

    A great review and summation of the film. I am looking forward to seeing it. thank you for the realistic expectations! well done!

  7. I'm not surprised at all by audiences' reaction. I had to use the restroom upon leaving the theater and heard two guys bitching about it, griping how it was more a two star film than the four stars our local paper gave it.

    I compared this to The American, and heard many of the same things when it was released last year. People went in expecting another Bourne flick and got an art film peppered with action, same as this one. Drive clearly seems to be for "movie people" like us - call us snobs if you must, it just seems to be tracking that way.

  8. @Dylan – The American is a great comparison, people really were expecting something different from that film. I would also say Hanna falls into this category as well. It was not the non-stop action most expected it to be either.

  9. Phips3:03 am

    I thought this film was fantastic. Like you said, not what I (like most people) was expecting. In fact, two guys sitting near me got up and left about 10 min into the film. The trailer and the marketing make this film very misleading.

    Drive started very slow and I began to better understand that this would be an artsy type film; I already knew it would be but I didnt know to what extent.

    There were 2 key scenes in this film for me. First, the diner scene where a past acquaintance recognizes Driver and propositions him. Driver immediately lashes out at him and bares his teeth, finally giving the audience a view into who Driver really is because up until this point we think he is just some soft spoken loner who lets himself get pushed around by people. The diner scene reveals a darker side to Driver and ultimately serves as a foreshadowing into the 2nd scene which I thought was vital for the film.

    The motel scene in the aftermath of the robbery was jarring. The audience finally sees what lengths Driver is willing and able to go to in order to protect what he believes in and care this case, Irene and her son.

    One other scene of note that I wanted to comment on was the "big chase" after the pawn shop ordeal. The car chase isnt long nor extravagant but its just great. The presence of almost entirely engine noises and tire screeching is a masterpiece...It begs to be compared to the iconic scene from Bullitt with McQueen...however, this scene from Drive pales in comparison to the classic chase scene

    I thought Gosling was absolutely superb. His ability to play the quiet loner but then shift into a violent, ruthless man (with principles nonetheless) was great.

    Lastly, the music in this film was magnificent. It had a huge part in why I liked this film so much. IT was very 70's-80's sounding to me and that was evident also in the pink text used for the film; it just screamed 70s-80s to me.

    Drive is going to be a film that a small majority will appreciate and enjoy while most will be disappointed simply because it is not at all what they expected and they are largely incapable of appreciating fine, comply filmmaking..

  10. Phips3:05 am

    oh yeah, the one thing I do wish is that there was a bit more driving...not Fast and Furious or The Transporter but just a little bit more. I mean, the film is titled Drive.

  11. @Phips – Both of those scenes you pointed are great. The dinner scene in particular tells so much about Driver’s life in a few short words. His life will never be peaceful as he will always have people either wanting to get revenge or hounding him to do a new heist.

    I can understand your desire for more actual driving in the film. Especially considering how the thrilling opening chase and the pawn shop chase were. However, I kind of like that the film leaves you wanting more. Too many chase scenes might have been a little overkill.

    As for the music, the soundtrack will be playing in my car for weeks to come.

  12. dEmon8:27 pm

    Courtney, take a moment. This will be the first and last time you see me says this: You were right. ;p Finally saw Drive and was so not disappointed! What a beautifully crafted film. Wow. My soundtrack prof would have gone nuts over how much the soundtrack - dialogue, sound effects and music - played a role in this film. And Ryan Gosling... what a performance - and hardly any of it with dialogue. Superb.

  13. I feel a little bit guilty saying that Drive needed more driving. When the action comes it is tense and artfully done without shying away from the extreme violence, but that all starts to go away as soon as the characters start talking, or sighing and looking at each other. Nice review CS.

  14. @dEmon – I knew the day would come eventually :)

    @Dan O – No need to feel guilty, a lot of people wanted to see more car chases in the film. I think the film would still work well had another car sequence been included.

  15. Finally saw this over the weekend, and one of the best parts for me was the opening car chase. I love that instead of just asking which car can go the fastest, Driver actually used his brains. If I'm ever on the run from the cops, I'd pick Gosling over Diesel for sure!

  16. You're right! Drive is a thrill to watch! I finally got to see it and get my review posted. I tend to agree and like how you referenced the 80's style that the film contains.


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