By Christopher Exantus
The film “Drive” is a strange beast. Directed by Danish-born Nicolas Winding Refn (“Bronson”), the film has been getting a large mainstream push by film distributor Film District even though Refn has been mostly known for his output in the independent film market. Drive doesn’t stray too far from Refn’s artistic vision, yet is a riveting and unapologetically violent crime tale. It just might not be up everyone’s alley.
An unnamed driver (Ryan Gosling, The Notebook) doubles as a mechanic and getaway driver in the city of Los Angeles. Driver becomes smitten with his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan, Never Let Me Go); however, her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac, Sucker Punch), has been released from jail and is forced to perform a heist for a subordinate of Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks, Finding Nemo), a Jewish mobster. Driver offers his assistance to Standard in exchange for the safety of Irene and her son. However, the robbery goes terribly wrong, and Driver finds himself being tracked down by Bernie’s enforcers.
Despite appearing in the popular film The Notebook, Gosling has yet to appear in anything that has staying power with mainstream film-goers. That may change with his performance as “Driver,” a character who is seemingly timid and harmless, yet capable of such monstrous acts. It is difficult for an actor to pull off different extremes of emotion within a single character, yet Gosling is able to achieve this flawlessly. Brooks, a comedic actor known primarily for his role as Marlin in Pixar’s Finding Nemo, joins the ranks of Jim Carrey and Robin Williams as a comedic actor who is successfully able to make a turn in a more serious film. Bernie is a character that is both charming as well as capable of being a threatening force.Brooks does the job well, not only selling the character, but also making him surprisingly likable. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) plays a broken-down middleman attempting to go straight by forming a NASCAR racing team, and does a phenomenal job with what little screen-time he has to work with. Ron Pearlman (Sons of Anarchy) plays Jewish-Italian gangster Nino, who serves as Brooke’s right-hand man. While Pearlman is not stepping out of his comfort zone for this role, he does it so well that at this point, it does not matter if he is treading familiar ground.
The lack of a female presence, while not a primary flaw, is somewhat disconcerting. Both Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) and Carrey Mulligan are not given much to do; the former appears in the movie for only mere seconds, and Mulligan spends most of her time on screen simply reacting toward events that occur.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s directing operates under the “less is more” philosophy. The film trades in explosions and fast-paced action for quiet meditation, and slow character building; a decision that may turn off those expecting something more action-packed. Yet Refn’s minimalistic direction allows the film to convey more emotion than it ever could with needless dialogue. It is a kind of confidence that emanates throughout the entire film, something that only a talented director and cast can pull off. While the first half of the film can be considered a slow-burner, when the action hits, it hits hard. “Driver” is violent, at times ridiculously so, as the gore presents a jarring imagery to the otherwise quiet nature of the film. However, the violence presented never feels over-the-top, making it effective, yet never straying into “gore-porn” territory.
Drive feels like an ode to older crime-films, and the synth-laden soundtrack gives it an overwhelming nostalgic feel. Drive might not be what many expected, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.