Movie News & Reviews

'Drive' awesomely shifts between hypnotic, unusual

Pro tip: movie characters do not make for great role models.

Being a Transformer looks pretty cool, but do you know how much training and fresh pairs of pants it takes to pull that off? Anyway, what good does being able to shapeshift into a semi-truck actually do for you? Save money on gas? Yeah, but those dollars come right back out of your pocket on maintenance. Do you know how much an 18-wheeler has to spend on shoes?

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More down-to-earth action stars aren't much better choices. Vigilante murder sprees make for an exciting 90 minutes of your life, but that tends to get outweighed by the 90 consecutive life sentences that follow. Even if it's pure self-defense, you'll probably wind up looking at some serious mental trauma. The crime drama Drive doesn't go out of its way to make its hero look crazy, but after the fact, it's hard not to feel that way.

Ryan Gosling is a stunt driver and mechanic who moonlights as a getaway driver for Los Angeles crooks. He strikes up a low-key relationship with neighbor Carey Mulligan and her young son, but he is shoved out of the picture when Mulligan's husband, Oscar Isaac, returns from jail.

But Isaac owes money to the LA mob. They're threatening his family. To clear his debt, he's forced to rob a pawn shop — and Gosling's the driver.

Drive is an oddball. It was probably homeschooled. Those kids always turn out weird. Its bright cinematography, spare dialogue, and lingering gazes suggest a delicate arthouse romance, but its head-smashings and neck-slashings suggest someone went and pissed off Jason Statham again.

In fact, between Gosling's car chases, car crashes, and free beat-down delivery service, he's almost like a real-life Jason Bourne. Who's still fake, because this is a movie, you know.

This might sound like it would make for a jarring tone, an experience that would leave you more disconnected and jumbled up than that ill-fated day you tried to take a box of Legos with you through the teleporter. Not so. Director Nicolas Winding Refn (note to self: lobby for renewed era of Ellis Island name-fixing) continues his string of effective weirdness with an action movie that has none of the usual action movie cliches. Gosling doesn't even use a gun. Except when he takes them from people trying to kill him and instead kills them with it. Between that and scuzzy mob action, this is Taken territory.

Only Drive really isn't an action movie. Gosling is touch, laconic, and unstoppable like an action star, but he's deeply lonely, spending most of the time he isn't wooing Mulligan driving around listening to music. Actually, that's most of what he does with her, too. If a man could marry a car — and we're in Los Angeles, so the possibility can't be ruled out — I think Gosling would do so, then cheat on it three weeks later with his stereo.

It's a commanding performance that is counter-commanded by turns from ex-producer Albert Brooks, wannabe guido Ron Perlman and put-upon garage owner Bryan Cranston. That's a murderer's row of acting talent. In fact, you should probably go see Drive now before its cast is rounded up, put on trial for lethal awesomeness and executed. But how do you kill creatures such as those? Poison won't work. The governor will have to perform a demonic ritual. Popes may be involved.

It's a blend of grim action, immaculate soundtrack, vulnerable leads, great support, indie romance, and razor-sharp cinematography. Now and then, Drive's stripped-down dialogue borders on the ridiculous — Gosling and Mulligan spend more time smiling shyly at each other than a 4th-grade dance — but as a whole, Drive is as hypnotic as it is unusual.

Grade: A-

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, and through Smashwords.

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