Drive (2011)


(Streaming on Netflix as of 5/17/2012)

In the context of the small portion of my life devoted to the enjoyment of movies, I have quite a tumultuous emotional history with Drive, which is odd given that it’s only been out for less than a year. When I first saw the trailer, it looked like another crappy Fast and the Furious kind of car porn movie.

Then I started to hear some reviews about how un-Hollywood the movie is…

Then some people I know and respect said how much they loved it…

Then I actually started to get excited about it…

But then I started to worry that it wasn’t going to live up to the hype…

So with a certain degree of “anticipointment” I finally sat down to watch it…

And I fell in love with it within the first five minutes.

The opening scene of Drive is one of the most exciting, suspenseful scenes in recent memory. It’s a “car chase” in a decidedly un-movie kind of way. The most tense moments are when the car isn’t moving at all.

Next is a beautiful title sequence that would make Michael Mann neon pink with envy. The cinematography paints a gorgeous picture of Los Angeles at night underscored by what must be some of the coolest late night driving music I’ve ever heard.

And then what follows is a totally engaging, hypnotic modern telling of a classic western tale: A man-with-no-name gets drawn reluctantly into a conflict that he never wanted but will not retreat from.

Drive does have some character and story problems, especially towards the end. But just like in a good relationship, love made it easy for me to forgive the movie’s imperfections.

If you don’t want to risk spoilers, stop reading now. Otherwise…

Take Ryan Gosling, for example. His understated performance works for me, most of the time. But in the few scenes where he shows strong emotion, I just don’t buy it. Even the filmmakers seem to recognize this problem. Notice how the scene where Gosling gets angry at Bryan Cranston is continually cross cut with shots of Gosling driving, as if they were attempting to salvage with slick editing a scene that fundamentally wasn’t working. I thought Gosling was great in Lars and the Real Girl, so I know he can act. It makes me wonder if he (and the director) even knew who this character was. I fear the quiet, subdued performance was a stylistic choice without a deeper character-based reason for that choice.

Also, the way that Albert Brooks gets the drop on him at the end did not ring true. The driver is a character we’ve just seen kick the ass of some hardcore criminals. You want me to believe he was bested by Albert Brooks? Again, it seems style won over substance. The driver needed to get stabbed so we, the audience, could win the staring contest with him (to pay off all of the staring contests he’s won against the little boy earlier in the movie) in that long “is he dead or alive?” shot.

My final criticism is that there’s no character arc for the driver. Yes, we learn more about who he is, so there’s an arc for the audience. But what does he learn? Granted, the man-with-no-name typically doesn’t have an arc; he’s just there to fuck shit up.

Again, none of these criticisms really matter if the point of this movie is an exercise in style because it totally succeeds in that regard. The word that kept popping into my head, especially during my second viewing of the movie, was “beautiful.” Drive is like the beautiful girl you have a crush on who just casts a spell on you whenever you’re in her presence. Maybe she’s a little confused at times, mispronounces “supposedly” as “supposably,” but all those silly foibles just become part of her magical charm.

More info at IMDb, RottenTomatoes, and Amazon.com.

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4 thoughts on “Drive (2011)

  1. “The most tense moments are when the car isn’t moving at all.” My sentiments exactly! Some great stuff in that opening sequence.

    I like your take on how the filmmakers seemed like they worked around Gosling’s scenes of emotional peaks. I certainly didn’t notice what you described because I was so invested in the story and curious about what was going to happen next. I’ll make sure to look for them on my second viewing.

  2. I just downloaded the soundtrack. Reading your post reminded me how great it was! 🙂

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