Film Review – Drive (Second Take)
In creating the mood for the film Drive, Ryan Gosling shows his character’s driving skills early, as well as the calm of his character in intense situations, his fast thinking and movements of the vehicle, and how he handles problems that arrive—knowing that the audience will be waiting for scenes of intense driving (so much like Milk did in getting the gay sex scene out of the way.) After showcasing Gosling’s skills, the story starts in earnest. Gosling, known simply as Driver, is a stoic, silent type, works as a mechanic and stunt man, and also moonlights as a driver for criminals. No history or motivation is given into why he does this work. He is who he is, that is how he presents himself and it stays constant.
All of these jobs are set up by Shannon (Bryan Cranston), a mentor to Driver of sorts with big schemes and—unlike in most films with this “loser character”—chances to actually make them happen. Cranston is the owner of a garage and has been involved with car stunts in films for awhile. He has peripheral connections to the mob, mainly through Bernie (Albert Brooks), a friend and sometime investor in Shannon’s plans, who is partnered with the bitter Nino (Ron Perlman). Together, they are starting up a racing business, with Shannon creating the cars and Driver racing them. This is all put on hold when Driver starts seeing his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), a single mother and just a decent person. When her husband gets out of jail, Driver decides to help him with a job, and when it goes bad the whole world comes crashing down.
The premise sounds pretty familiar to some of you, I suspect, but be reassured there is more here than meets the eye. Yes, the film follows a formula, but it does it well by giving a very visceral feel to everything that happens to its characters. We know the violence and mayhem that is to come, but it’s made intriguing by giving us the first half of the movie just dealing with the characters. We can then actually begin to understand what the characters are dealing with when everything starts to fall apart. It isn’t just violence for violence’s sake; it is there to show the true horror of what this criminal world is all about.
It is not just the violence (which is graphic), but the reactions the characters have to what is going on. No one is happy with what is happening, but there is a general understanding about why characters are doing what they are doing. Gosling gives a great performance here, making himself appear calm and steady at every moment, barely changing his facial reactions. Usually, when they limit an actor’s facial reaction and make him a “silent type,” the actor looks ridiculous or over the top; here they make it feel so ingrained into his personality that we start to pick up on the cues quickly and figure him out. A highlight of this is when he is sitting while Cranston is talking about a stunt in a movie they want Gosling to do, and Cranston talks about the extra money. Gosling pauses for just a minute, like he is waiting, then Cranston mentions it’s minus his percentage. Gosling than nods in reaction. All this is translated without saying anything and says a lot about the characters very early on.
The supporting actors are just as engaging. Albert Brooks is already being talked about for a Supporting Actor Oscar, and it is no surprise. This is the intense, bad guy performance the Academy has liked in the past. Brooks goes from being very personable and charming to dangerous in a second. What is great is that he is both these personalities at once. Bryan Cranston is also great here; he straddles the line between being a crooked man using Driver and a man who generally cares for him. Their relationship is in many ways the heart of the film. Driver knows Shannon is “using” him and lets the illusion stand, but he also trusts Shannon to look after things. And, for the most part, he does. This is not a traditional mentor-student relationship, but it comes across as very natural, with the right level of it being business, though they still actually care about the other.
The only actor who isn’t really given a chance to shine is Mulligan. Most of her work is when she is out with Ryan Gosling, yet Gosling and Mulligan’s chemistry is not developed much. A lot of their time together is done in a montage of quick scenes. We are never really given a whole lot of reasons why they are together. It is implied that they are just two lonely people who get along, but nothing is really shown. This is not a bad thing, but it does limit how we relate to their relationship. In the end, their relationship is simply a plot point to move the story to the violence, and for that purpose the film gives enough.
The commercials for this film play it off as a The Fast and the Furious-type film, and that really does it a disservice. It is not a quick adrenaline rush movie with easy stick characters. It is so much more. It is a very intense, hold you to the edge of your seat film that grabs you and doesn’t let you go, because you can never truly know what is coming.
Final Grade: A-