Drive (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Drive (2011)

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The camera sharpens around his figure as he declares , "Five minutes."  For a time he's yours to do what he has sharpened into his purest purpose.  We see his face in the rearview before his frame, alert and focused, behind the wheel like he doesn't want to be anywhere else in the city, but he's not happy to be a driver either.  So what does he want?

Drive answers this question by observing the unnamed driver with crystal clarity and precision of frame.  This is a modernist thriller to the stripped down maximum style limit with not a wasted second.  Ryan Gosling, adding another perfect performance to his impressive list, sensed director Nicolas Winding Refn was right for the material and requested Refn direct when Gosling signed on to star.

He has the instincts of a top-level producer because the pairing of Refn and Gosling results in both stretching beyond their normal extremes to deliver a product which belongs alongside the first films of Scorsese and DeNiro.  Drive may be style to the extreme with its Scorpion-jacketed hero and airbrushed hot pink titles but the emotion is present and strong, even with all of the careful posing going on.

The driver (Gosling) spends his days work with with the mechanic Shannon (played to the wounded best by Bryan Cranston) on engineering stunt crashes for movies.  At night he makes deals with the criminals around town as a getaway driver, why?  We never quite find out though the driver makes certain after an admirer of his work tries to get friendly that he's not afraid of killing someone in order to keep those worlds separate.

Gosling has never been more commanding and, at the peak, manages to be scarier than his Jewish Nazi from The Believer.

Some local gangsters (Albert Brooks. terrifying, and Ron Perlman, insecure) take an interest in the driver for a racing circuit unknowing of his sideline project.  Meanwhile, Irene (Care Mulligan, projecting sensuality on a level Kieslowski would have been proud of) moves in and and the driver finds someone who makes him happy as he takes care of her and the kid.  Her husband (Oscar Isaac, reeking of strength and desperation) returns home after a stint in jail and, try as he might, the driver isn't able to keep his three worlds separate for long.

Some might refer to Drive as a stylistic exercise with it's cool, detached hero and snyth score by Cliff Martinez, but it functions on a much higher level than that.  It's interested in finding out what happens when someone so singularly devoted to a certain task is interrupted.  How would they go about putting their life back in order, or is it even possible to maintain some sense of normalcy afterward?

Fitting the driver wears a scorpion jacket because he can't help being what he is.  The only time Gosling allows the hint of enjoyment on his face is when the driver is with his neighbor and her child.  When things do go wrong he is fueled by anger at the idea anyone might hurt her, but obsessed with putting his life back into order so that he can go back to doing exactly what he needs to continue to function.  It's no surprise, handy as he is with a hammer, his greatest weapon is his car.

Which, surprisingly, gets into very few chase scenes.  But Refn builds the anticipation, relying on misdirection and a well used police radar to construct the most gripping sequence in the film.  He recognizes the potential of a chase to be more than simply moving very fast as the driver hides the vehicle in plain sight, mixes amongst the crowd, and creates unbearable tension as we wait alongside him in an alleyway praying for the helicopter to go away.  Amazing this opening sequence maintains a high level of emotion the entire film.

Refn brings his trademark sense of creepy surreality to the best moments of Drive.

Refn's tightly controlled camera showcases the obsession of the driver but his use of color that gives this movie a pulsing edge.  The best example comes with the driver, an air of earthy green around him, meets with Irene and her portion of the room is bathed in a light red.  As she breathes, harder and more accentuated on the soundtrack, the red becomes deeper and the space between them filled with such sexual ache the becomes unbearable.  That Refn is able to construct this sequence so perfectly is the sign of his continued genius, the evidence of a master at hand is he avoids the obvious payoff and refuses us the kiss they each long for with desperation.

When the kiss comes accompanied by violence, flashes of which are so brutal and over so fast we see how much of a joke most "action" scenes are in movies.  There is no room for the driver to make a mistake, and while he may have the psychological edge with his hammer and demeanor, the blood and tears on his jacket show he's still human and the slightest mistake will end his obsessions forever.

I nearly bled gripping my seat and biting into my mouth, contemplating these people and their actions.  Films this good are so rare they are to be treasured.  There's a rebuke to the chaos of Transformers, now packaged in one of the best films of the year.

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Drive (2011)

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Screenplay by  Hossein Amini.
Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston.

Posted by Andrew

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