Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
Some movies are conceived and produced to exude the essence of “cool.” Steve McQueen in Bullitt comes to mind. In 1978, the excellent filmmaker Walter Hill directed The Driver, in which Ryan O’Neal plays a talented driver who hires out as a wheelman for robberies. He’s pursued by cop Bruce Dern, and hangs out with accomplice Isabelle Adjani. Nobody says much; none of the characters have names; it has an insular, almost claustrophobic, feel to it; and the stunts are terrific.
Fast forward to now. While not a remake of The Driver, the new film Drive does seem to be influenced by Hill’s film. Ryan Gosling plays a part-time Hollywood stunt driver who hires out in his off hours as a wheelman for robberies. And Drive looks as if it’s to be Gosling’s passport into Steve McQueen territory to earn his designation as “cool.”
Unfortunately, director Nicolas Winding Refn is no Walter Hill. In an effort to make Drive an existential meditation on crime, as well as cool, Refn gives us a film that is so slowly paced it, at times, feels motionless. We know virtually nothing about Gosling’s character, which is ok, as that worked for O’Neal in The Driver, but not for Gosling in Drive. He is given enough of a background to muddy the waters, and make the viewer wonder why he does some of the things he does, instead of just “being.” Oscar-nominee Carey Mulligan is the girl next door, literally, who has a young son and whose husband is in prison. She’s okay in the role, but not exceptional. There is a definite lack of chemistry between these two.
But here comes the good part. Rather than have a cop or two as Gosling’s nemeses, he runs afoul of a couple of gangsters who are not to be messed with. And they are the high point of Drive. Ron Perlman is sleazy and despicable and fits the part perfectly. Even better is scene-stealing Albert Brooks as his partner. In a complete 180 from how you remember Brooks from such films as Broadcast News and Defending Your Life, he plays the role as a guy who has flashes of being a real human being… until he’s pushed. And then the raging animal in him shows just what he’s capable of doing. It’s a stunning, Oscar-worthy performance that makes the film worth seeing.
There are also a couple of good supporting performances. Bryan Cranston is fine as Gosling’s mentor and sometime employer. Christina Hendricks, from TV’s Mad Men, has a very small, but memorable role. And if you blink, you’ll miss an almost unrecognizable Russ Tamblyn in one scene as “Doc.”
The intended audience for Drive is unclear. The film moves and looks like an art film. Dialogue is sparse, and there’s lots of staring. But there are occasional interludes of extreme violence that hit you like a hammer in the face. You might say it’s too violent for the art house crowd, but too slow-moving for the young, hip, ok… cool, commercial audience. And maybe that works for you. For me, it’s the great performance by Albert Brooks that may actually get me to a second viewing.
The R-rated Drive is now revving its engine at the usual sus-plex.