Sunday, February 19, 2012

Drive: A Stylish, Pulsating Thriller Races To The Finish Line

Drive (2011) is an action film that re-energizes its’ genre, and at the same time pays homage to its roots. Ryan Gosling stars as a movie stunt driver, who does side work as a wheelman for small-time heists. He has very specific rules about what he will and won’t do when he operates as a getaway driver. He lives a quiet life, mostly keeping to himself, and working as a mechanic with his mentor, Shannon (played by Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad), who also arranges his jobs. Things start to change when he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan), a neighbor who’s raising her young son while her husband is in prison. The two form a bond, and we start to see the human being beneath the hard shell the Driver has built around himself. Their scenes together are some of the best in the film.

Irene’s husband is released from prison early, and returns home. When the Driver (he’s never named in the film) attempts to help him execute a small heist to pay off some crooks he got involved with in prison, things spiral out of control. From then on, it’s a race against time as the villains are out to get the Driver, and are hunting down Irene & her son. The Driver must step outside the confines of his normal existence, and try to help them survive the threat his actions helped create. He's a man who has scruples, despite the nature of his work.

The style of the film recalls movies like Point Blank (1967), Bullitt (1968) and To Live & Die in L.A. (1985). The Tarantino-esque violence creates a contrast with the cool, neo-noir look of the film. This is a world that can erupt into brutality at any time, where even making the right choice has consequences. Gosling’s character recalls such iconic antiheroes as Steve McQueen’s Bullitt and Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name; loners with their own moral code who say little, but allow their actions to speak for themselves. The film is based on the novella by James Sallis; the taut, effective screenplay is by Hossein Amini. Director Nicolas Winding Refn combines elements of samurai movies, film noir, and classic action films with a truly modern sensibility. The stunning cinematography is by Newton Thomas Sigel, who also worked on The Usual Suspects (1995) and the first two X-Men films.

The mix of cinematic style, haunting music (score by Cliff Martinez, and some well chosen songs, including "A Real Hero" by College, featuring Electric Youth) and excellent performances unite to create an action movie with an existentialist feel. There are quiet moments of real emotion and character amid the car chases and violent action. A perfect example is the understated scene where Standard, Irene's husband, talks about how the couple met. The entire cast is fantastic, with Ron Perlman (Sons Of Anarchy) & Albert Brooks, in a far cry from his usually comedic roles, in good form as the villains. Gosling is excellent as The Driver, and Mulligan is luminous as Irene. This is an action movie with a very human story at its center. Drive is one of the best movies of 2011. Highly recommended.

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