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Drive (2011)

Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Kaden Leos, Jeff Wolfe

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Expectations: High, everyone’s hype has gotten to me.

If only Drive was able to keep up the level of awesome displayed in its opening scene. The first ten minutes of the film are pure, intense filmmaking filled with tension, suspense and fantastic editing. There’s virtually no dialogue: only wonderful sound FX, the chatter of a police radio and intensely brilliant visuals. This getaway scene is everything I could ever want out of a movie called Drive, and honestly, I would have been better served by the film if I had just gotten up upon its conclusion and taken my satisfied grin with me.

With an opening like this, and a title like Drive, one wouldn’t be wrong to expect a movie that contains lots of car action. Drive only gets more and more frustrating as it goes on if you have these expectations though, as very little actual driving takes place. Literally, the next substantial driving scene after that extended prologue is about an hour later. C’mon, WTF! If this is the case, what takes up so much of Drive‘s time then, you ask? Poor character development and clichéd romance & mafia sub-plots, that’s what!

Ryan Gosling plays an unnamed driver, which is a noble idea and perhaps an intentional homage to Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy of westerns with Clint Eastwood, but Gosling is no Eastwood. Nor is he Charles Bronson, or Robert Forster, or Fred Williamson, or even Steven Seagal. He can’t hold a candle to any stalwart face from your standard revenge film of the past, and his acting is fucking abysmal. Director Nicholas Winding Refn wisely chooses to make Gosling only speak once in a while and when he does, it’s in short sentences. There’s one scene where he speaks quite a bit and the moment requires him to get forceful and hard, but Gosling only made me burst into laughter at how close it all seemed to the character-within-a-character, Brock Landers, played by Dirk Diggler (in turn played by Mark Wahlberg) in P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights. I’m just not feeling Gosling in the badass role, and while he does handle the visceral, violent moments well, he just doesn’t have the look or the acting chops to hold it all together. On the other hand, Albert Brooks is great and chilling as a B-movie producer turned mob boss and Ron Perlman does equally well as his meathead second-in-command. I didn’t expect either of these guys to nail it like they did and their scenes were some of the film’s best.

Carey Mulligan is a great actress, perhaps one of the better young actresses this generation, and her work in Drive is once again admirable. She plays the sweet, lovable mother doing her best to care for her son, but her purpose in the film is nothing more than to play damsel in distress (albeit only threatened) and catalyst to the film’s main events. She isn’t given any real depth or character so it leaves a lot of the film’s supposedly more dramatic moments lacking. I can only watch Mulligan and Gosling stare at each other without saying anything for so long. That isn’t interesting, it’s just lazy. The other prominent female (played by Christina Hendricks) fares even worse, further cementing this film as a juvenile, misogynistic view on the world where men deal in death and women provide the supple hips. It’s sorta like film noir in that way, and I can deal with this if it’s done well but it’s very heavy-handed here and far from impressive.

The musical choices are equally hit or miss, ranging from the fantastic synth pulse of the opening to the most prominent song being incredibly ham-fisted and misguided. Just because you’re playing a song that repeats, “He’s a human being, and a real hero” over a tender moment, doesn’t immediately make it true or compelling for an audience. I get it, I get it; Gosling is an anti-hero, kissing the girl in slo-mo one moment and then face-stomping the baddie Troma-style the next, but the musical choice is so in-your-face and devoid of subtlety that I cannot condone it. I found myself wishing that Tarantino had instead picked the music, because no matter what anyone thinks of his films, the guy knows how to place music over images. Refn apparently does not. Or does he? There are genuine instances of great music use, like the opening scene, but these are all instrumental in nature and I would have greatly appreciated the score remaining that way throughout. The synthetic thump works so well over this film, but every time the bullshit lyrics come, they’re so obvious and unneeded that it just ruins the scenes. The lyrics merely say out loud what a careful, thoughtful viewer should be thinking to themselves as the editing connects the ideas, but spelling it out here cheapens the film and makes it needlessly juvenile. I will say that the film’s sound FX were spot-on awesome, with shotgun blasts that I felt in my seat and the thick rumble of car engines rumbling the entire room.

Ultimately, Drive is a film with lots of potential but unfortunately it languishes in boring, unfulfilling drama instead of genuine story or action. The studio’s plot synopsis for the film literally covers the entire film save for the final half hour, and that right there is a testament to how little substance there is. The style isn’t nearly interesting enough to carry the film, and Gosling’s sad, puppy-dog eyes just weren’t doing it for me. He gave it his best, but the sign advertising for the “Revenge Star of the New Millennium” must go back up in the imaginary window.

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