Saturday, September 24, 2011

Movie review: Drive

After a long cinematic dry season, I really missed going to the movies.  Hard up, as they say.  So I was almost ready to go see anything.  But when I noticed how the reviews were running for Nicolas Winding Refn's new flick, Drive, I began to hope I might find something good.  (Critic reviews for Drive have been running generally positive, while fan reviews are mixed.  That's almost always a good sign.)

Ryan Gosling plays the unnamed driver who makes a living in Los Angeles as an auto-mechanic, stunt driver, and wheelman for heists.  (Good-looking fellow, I must say.)  He is stirred from his shadowy, solitary life  by his neighbor, Irene (Cary Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother who is living alone with her young son.  Meanwhile, his mentor and agent, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), peddles him as an investment to mobbed-up money man, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his partner, Nino (Ron Perlman).  When Irene's hubby, Standard (Oscar Isaac), finishes his prison time and comes home, the fuse is lit.

It's a short fuse.  With a big bang.  The second half of Drive is chock full of eye-popping violence.

This film was my introduction to most of the cast, and to director Refn.  Albert Brooks was fantastic as the brash, no-nonsense Bernie Rose.  Rose is a collection of contradictions.  He is both ruthless and compassionate. He's honest and a double-crosser.  And he has a terrifying talent with sharp things.

Bryan Cranston (of Malcolm in the Middle fame) was excellent as scheming, well-intended Shannon, the one person whom the driver trusts.  Carey Mulligan was also good as the brave-but-overmatched Irene.   (I guess I saw her in Public Enemy, but I don't remember.  That was a forgettable flick.)  And Ron Perlman was solid, as always. 

This was, I think, Gosling's biggest lead role to date, and he pulled it off admirably.  His character is silent and detached, mean and noble.  Behind the ice cold detachment lurks a hero.  (Well --kind of a hero...) 

This is one of those films in which the mood never lapses.  The dialog is tight and meaningful.  There are a constant menace and a somber calm overlaying the story --a calm that erupts into sudden, shocking violence.  I was reminded faintly of  Jim Jarmusch's 1999 flick, Ghost Dog (featuring a brilliant performance by Forrest Whitaker).

I've read that Drive belongs to a genre known as "L.A. Noir," which might explain why the cinematography seemed to place so much emphasis on shadow and contrast.  The flick is visually appealing, maintaining an eeriness, an unease that contribute to the whole.

Director Refn made an excellent film.  I wouldn't recommend it to my poor, sensitive mother, or to anyone else who is bothered by digital violence.  But, man!  Drive is one good flick.

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