Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: "Drive"

Drive opened in wide release during the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was screened as a special presentation. TIFF is known for showcasing many world and North American premieres at the festival and it is surprising that Drive was amongst its titles, considering that it had its world premiere back in May at Cannes, where director Nicolas Winding Refn won Best Director, and then held screenings at the Los Angeles and Melbourne film festivals. It is a fantastic film with a unique take on the heist genre, but opening in theatres during TIFF almost deflates the film's buzz. The film's star, Ryan Gosling, has certainly had a good year with two films at TIFF (the other being George Clooney's The Ides of March) and a third film, Crazy, Stupid, Love. getting great reviews this summer. This comes a year after his fantastic performance alongside Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, which should have won Gosling an Academy Award nomination. I first noticed Ryan Gosling in the late 1990s on the cheesy Canadian television series Breaker High. I definitely would not have predicted that the ladies man of a cruise ship high school would become one of Hollywood's most talented and sought after young actors. It would be like saying you knew A.C. Slater was going to become host of Extra. Drive is an exceptionally stylized film that gives the heist genre an art house twist. Scenes are drawn out with long, awkward pauses and the violence seems almost grotesque. It is most certainly a vehicle for Ryan Gosling and my only complaint would be that Carey Mulligan's character seems to be living in another film. The two may have some chemistry, but there is nothing special on screen between them. The film works because of Refn's deft direction and Gosling's inherent skill. My eyes were glued to the screen and the few moments of awkward pauses seem to fit within the mold of the film. Drive, with its stylish visuals and standout performance from Ryan Gosling, adds new vitality to a film genre that all too often seems overworked. It is definitely the cool film of the fall and will skew towards a much younger audience.

Gosling plays a never named stunt car driver who works primarily at Shannon's (Bryan Cranston) garage. He also moonlights as a getaway driver through Shannon's connections with Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), a mobster. Shannon hopes that Bernie and his partner Nino (Ron Perlman) will back his plan to buy a NASCAR racecar so the Driver can race it. The Driver becomes involves with his neighbour Irene (Mulligan) and her young son. The two start becoming very close romantically until Irene's husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) comes home from prison. The Driver witnesses Standard being beaten by Cook (James Biberi), to whom he owes protection money from his stint in prison. Concerned for Irene's safety, the Driver agrees to help Standard set up Cook in a pawn shop robbery with the help of Blanche (Christina Hendricks). The whole plan goes awry and the Driver finds that his life is now in jeopardy.

At the Bell Lightbox during TIFF I saw Bryan Cranston come out of the building while I was lined up waiting to see Tilda Swinton. He was almost unrecognizable. He is an immensely talented actor who has completely changed his career trajectory after going from Malcolm in the Middle to Breaking Bad. There was such great chemistry between Cranston and Albert Brooks, and Ryan Gosling's quiet temperament in the film made for some great scenes. I was a little put off by the silences in the film at first. It can be very awkward to watch characters' expressions when we, as a viewer, are not privy to their thoughts. I am reminded of Alexander Payne's The Descendants. The screenplay uses a lot of voice-overs to draw the audience into George Clooney's character's inner world. This definitely would have been troublesome in Drive. It would have completely gone against director Refn's vision and part of the pleasure in watching the film is trying to figure out the Driver's head space. Ryan Gosling often plays introverted characters and there is such dimension in his roles. He is such a talented actor that it saddened me to hear on the radio that he was considering retiring from acting. I am excited to see what he will do with George Clooney's direction in The Ides of March when it opens in a couple weeks. Drive is the type of film that melds director and actor to create a fantastic film-going experience. There is just something so very cool and both retro and modern about Drive that it is hard to resist.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say, I did enjoy this film. It's kind of fun once in awhile, to revel in the awkwardness of existence. Film dialogue is rarely--if ever--realistic so it's nice to see a film attempting to capitalize on those moments. The film also did a very nice job of not sensationalizing the brutal slaying of characters or the reality of a car chase. It was an interesting counterpoint to the bevy of action thrillers out there. As ever Ryan Gosling was superbly believable as the quiet stunt man with an anger problem and Carey Mulligan was surprisingly charming, even if she wasn't onscreen very much. Brian Cranston's role was perhaps underused but certainly packed an emotional wallop I wasn't expecting.

    Over all my only problem with the film was the ending, which seemed a little thrown together for my taste. The character's motivation was lost to me a little bit at that point but certainly it can be explained away using other plot points. While it did fit, it felt a little like turning the rectangle lengthwise to fit it in the square hole: it may go through, but that's not really the objective, is it?

    I think I would knock a half point off Matt's score. 3 out of 4 for me.

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