Sunday 21 July 2013

Movie Review: Drive (2011)

An artistic journey into the heart of crime, Drive is an intense, occasionally violent but slow moving character study. However, it is dubious whether there is enough of a character here worth studying.

In Los Angeles, The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a mechanic by day, a movie stuntman when the work is there, and a crime getaway driver when seeking excitement. A man of few words who rarely displays any emotion, The Driver moves into an apartment building and meets his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan), a young mother living with her young son and awaiting the release of husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) from prison.

To capitalize on The Driver's exceptional talent behind the wheel, his boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) tries to secure a loan from mobsters Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman) to start a racing team. The tentative relationship between The Driver and Irene is interrupted when Standard returns home after finishing his sentence. Standard has debts owing to some uncompromising criminals represented by Cook (James Biberi) and his moll (Christina Hendricks), and The Driver agrees to help in a seemingly straightforward robbery of a pawn shop. But events quickly spiral out of control, and The Driver finds himself on a violent collision course with Bernie and Nino.

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn constructs an alternate reality where few words are spoken, violence is sudden and intense, the nights are tinted blue and the days are a harsh yellow. Echoing the western man-with-no-name anti-hero who is as violent as his enemies, The Driver has no name, hardly a background, and certainly no appetite to talk about much of anything. The film often satisfies the through-the-windshield visual appeal of a first-person video driving game, while characters interact with each other through looks and violence rather than coherent conversation.

While the style is abundantly on display, it is not backed-up be a compelling narrative. A film awash in flair needs the foundation of a simple story to serve as an anchor. Here the money problems of Standard quickly disintegrate into a muddle of ill-defined Mafia goons resorting to extreme measures, and The Driver's interest in helping Irene through Standard is at odds with his apparent lack of commitment to any cause other than his own.

Drive does eventually suffer from its own excesses, the pace quite slow as the standing-and-staring takes precedence over any plot momentum. There are scenes where Gosling and Mulligan are pretending to be all dark and brooding, but they also seem on the verge of breaking out into laughter at the absurdity of the timed delays between sentences.

In amongst the pregnant pauses, Winding Refn throws in brief bursts of action. Given the title and subject matter, the amount of actual car-oriented carnage is limited. More memorable are the bloody beatings, head-bashings and knifings that take over towards the end of the movie, as the body count mounts and every death attempts to outdo what came before in terms of gore.

Drive enjoys cool stretches, but can't avoid all the tricky potholes.

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