Film review: 'Drive' has critic feeling like he's in neutral

September 19, 2011|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Ryan Gosling is shown in a scene from "Drive."
(AP Photo/Film District, Richard Foreman)

"Drive" is a hard movie to figure out. That isn't to say that the plot is overly complicated (it's actually pretty straightforward), but the film goes in some directions creatively that come seemingly from out of nowhere. These directions aren't always good or bad necessarily, but they at least represent different and interesting decisions.

To start with, the main character has virtually no personality. The unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling) is pretty much a blank slate, going through the plot without letting the viewer pick up on any discernable traits. He has so little personality that it cannot be the result of incompetent filmmaking, there has to be a deliberate reason for it.  

Maybe the plot is supposed to carry The Driver, maybe we're supposed to be able to better figure out the other characters from the way they interact with him. The lack of personality might make the character boring, it might make him mysterious and intriguing.  There are going to be a lot of opinions on both sides of that median.

The Driver does have one trait, but it's so essential to the plot that it doesn't count.  He loves cars. He works as a mechanic, a stunt driver, a race driver and a getaway driver.  His getaway driving isn't always about tearing away from the cops, sometimes it's about being so evasive that he gets away with hiding in plain sight.

He is assisted in all his endeavors by his handler Shannon (Bryan Cranston). It seems that no matter what role The Driver is fulfilling, Shannon is always playing the part of the used car salesman,  

The Driver starts a casual relationship with his neighbor (Carey Mulligan). Her convict husband (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison and The Driver becomes a friend to both.  The husband is in trouble with some mobsters. He needs to stick up a pawn shop to work off a debt. The Driver offers to help him. Things go wrong. Now the mobsters are after The Driver. The plot really is straightforward.  

The two main villains are played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman. Brooks, known for comedic roles, plays a retired movie producer now connected to organized crime.  Perlman, known for action roles, plays a tough guy career criminal. Which one do you think is going to go psycho with a collection of crude sharp instruments? Wrong.  

There are some extremely violent scenes in the movie. These scenes will not just be disturbing to people who hate cinematic violence, they'll make everybody wince.  Some unusually brutal murder methods are used, but there's more to it than that.  Bullets, strikes and screams are louder here than in most movies, but there's more to it than that, too. It's that there's a certain tenderness onscreen that makes you empathize with the characters' pain. I'm not saying you'll scream, but your blood will run cold for a split second.  

The violent scenes are all the more jolting because in general "Drive" is a surprisingly peaceful film. That is the ultimate unexpected element to the film.  Everybody who goes to see the film is looking for an action movie.  

Its main character is a getaway driver, the villains are violent mobsters. Heck, the title is a verb, that alone implies excitement.

 It turns out that the film loves to play with your expectations in that regard. It is in fact a slow-paced film with extended takes where characters take long looks at each other and engage in minimal dialogue as harmless music plays.  

It's not a thriller, it's a lullaby. These qualities don't necessarily make the movie bad, they just take it in a completely unexpected direction. I still can't figure out if I like it or not.  

Two and a Half Stars out of Five.  

"Drive" is rated R for strong brutal bloody violence, language, and some nudity.  Its running time is 100 minutes.  

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