Review: ‘Drive’ makes movie stereotypes eat its dust
September 25, 2011
Some will say “Drive” is a film about what getting behind the wheel of a car can do to a person. Others will say the point is about blood and ultra-violence.
I say the main purpose was to run over cliches, stereotypes and preconceptions, then back up and plow them down again till they are nothing more than dust on the asphalt. (I also say a great opportunity was missed in not naming the film “Blood Drive,” though that sort of humor would not have fit well with the themes.)
Whatever the film’s main objectives, it has earned its fans. “Drive,” directed by Danish-born Nicolas Winding Refn, currently sits at No. 235 on the Internet Movie Database site (one place above “Kill Bill: Vol. 2,” which did add humor to its violence, but didn’t use the violence nearly as well as “Drive” does).
Back to the slaying of stereotypes.
1. Canadians are polite, cheerful, law-abiding and easy to get along with.
And then there’s Ryan Gosling. In “Drive,” Gosling plays a nameless, stoic stunt car driver and mechanic who takes the occasional side job as the driver of getaway cars (also known as a wheelman) in high-risk, urban crime capers. He’s got a soft side, which he displays in his devotion to his attractive neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son. But this hardly makes his Driver any more polite and cheerful; he approaches the romance with the same quiet intensity as he does driving.
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Sure, Gosling is not the Driver, but the actor playing him. Still, Gosling’s track record – a heroin addict in “Half Nelson”; a deranged, highly emotional lover in “Blue Valentine”; a murder suspect in “All Good Things” – suggests that there is something other than typical Canadian blood in his veins.
2. In any good mob movie, the mobsters are fighting to go legit.
Not a word of that here. These guys – the Driver, the pair of mob guys he gets entangled with, the small-time hood named Standard – never vow or attempt to go straight. These guys are married to the crime life till death do them part (which it most assuredly does). Even the hero, the Driver, doesn’t say much about cashing out, taking his woman, and driving toward the horizon, leaving the past behind.
3. Cinematic car chases are extravagant but emotionally cheap frills, aimed at raising the blood pressure of teenage boys.
“Drive” raises the car chase to an art; in fact, car chases are, literally, the Driver’s art form. The chases in “Drive” don’t look like other chases, nor do they have the same purpose. Here they help define the character.
4. Albert Brooks’ range is limited to nebbishy, wishy-washy characters (see “Broadcast News,” “Defending Your Life,” “Lost in America,” or Rudy, the character he played in the TV series “The Odd Couple,” whose spineless quality was the reason he got hired as an ad executive).
Brooks uses the same tools to play Bernie Rose, the mid-level mobster in “Drive,” that he has used to play nerds in the past. But he uses them in a new way. His wise-cracking essence becomes part of Bernie’s menacing quality; Brooks’ fleshiness, once an indicator of his boyishness, here looks more like a bulk to be contended with. Brooks mostly loses himself in the role, though there seems to be the slightest wink at the actor’s transformation. Don’t be surprised to see Brooks end up with an Oscar nomination.
(Note: Brooks has one decisive character on his resume – Russ Cargill, the manipulative head of the EPA in “The Simpsons Movie.” But that was a cartoon, and he only supplied the voice.)
5. It’s all about the money.
Not for the Driver.
(Another update: “Drive” continues to motor up the IMDB list, and is now at 114, a spot ahead of yet another crime film, albeit an only moderately violent one, “Yojimbo,” a 1961 Japanese movie.)
6. The book is always better than the movie.
Not that I’ve read “Drive,” by James Sallis, but I have read the Amazon reviews, which are fair at best. The movie version is far better than fair. (Update: IMDB now has “Drive” at No. 164, a slot ahead of another violence-oriented film, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”)
7. In the world of Los Angeles basketball, the Lakers are sexy and dangerous; the Clippers are pathetic.
Not only does the car chase in the opening sequence of “Drive” focus on a Clippers game, it involves a Clippers win (rivaling Brooks’ appearance as a mobster as the film’s most implausible element).
“Drive” is showing at the Isis Theater in Aspen.