Drive starts out in the fast lane; ends up in the ditch

Drive – 2011

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring
 Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac
Written by 
Hossein Amini based on Drive by James Sallis

There is a scene at the beginning of Drive that is as clever as any car chase I have seen.  Acting as driver for a robbery, the unnamed Driver (Gosling) is simultaneously listening to the L.A. Clippers and the Police scanner.  Just when things could not get any hotter with the police pursuit, he turns up the game.  The police are on his trail and he makes a few well-timed turns and you discover he is right outside of the Staples Center, where the game is being played and the game is just about over.  As the final bell rings, we find him pulling into the parking garage where the fans are clamoring to get out.  He gets in, parks, and then places a Clippers hat on, immediately melding with the throng.

At this point, the viewer is in lock step with the wordless protagonist.  He is the coolest thing in the world.  Soon enough, as we are introduced to the supporting players and the intelligence quotient of the script begins to sink, one realizes that the silence of our driver with no name is not so much a sign of cool, rather than a sign that the writer doesn’t have much to say.

Quite a buzz hovered around the acting in Drive.  Almost to a man, it is undeserved. The women in the movie aren’t bad.  I appreciate Carey Mulligan’s somberly wounded performance as single mother Irene.  It is an observant performance, as she slowly opens up to one man and finds to her surprise that she is not through with the last man.

Christine Hendricks, playing someone wrapped up in intrigue, is as appealingly deceptive as usual.  She is tortured and deceitful, and realizes that she has no control over her destiny.

The acting of the men, while not Oscar worthy, isn’t bad at all.  Albert Brooks takes an original turn for the wicked, and he does it with obvious relish.  He takes his opportunities without flair or loud noises, but a deadly, almost cowardly sneakiness.  As different as it was, I am okay with his not being nominated.  I prefer Nolte’s performance in Warrior to that of Brooks.

Ron Perlman, provides the noise as a Jewish mobster.  He is loud and he is annoying: the perfect mobster for the mind’s eye.  The reasoning behind his character’s motives are about the clearest in the story.  It is a testament to his acting skill that this is such a decent character with so few scenes.

Plenty has been made of Ryan Gosling’s snub for the Oscar of Lead Actor this year.  I don’t even think this was his best performance of the year.  That honor belongs to Crazy Stupid Love.  As The Driver, he spends a lot of time not saying much and not emoting either.  He has a point in the film where he puts on a mask in pursuit of someone he has targeted.  This scene is intentionally reminiscent of the Michael Meyers in Halloween.  The scene is creepy, sure, but it is also puzzlingly obtuse.  He is clearly drawn to Irene and her child, but the closest we get to his thoughts and feelings are a couple of songs on the soundtrack.

The script does no favors to Gosling.  Every effort is made to present him as an upstanding guy, when in truth of the matter is, he is a criminal.  There have been convincing nice guy criminals in other movies.  Jean Reno in Leon: The Professional is prominent among them.  What is more puzzling is his efforts to continually strike a deal with the bad guys, as if they would leave the innocents alone.  Not real easy to pull off wizened and naïve simultaneously (again, Reno comes to mind) and Gosling just comes across as someone who is socially awkward.  Then there’s that stupid, blood-stained jacket.

The best acting of the film comes from Cranston, playing The Driver’s employer and resident soft touch, Shannon.  His intentions are slimy, but true.  One can understand a bit more the unrealistic expectations of The Driver.

This brings me to the most egregious lapse in logic.  There are several points in the film in which most folks would have packed up with their ill-gotten gains and headed south.  The second of these, is an extremely violent incident in the elevator next to the home of The Driver, the single mother and her child.  After this, he leaves the mother in the parking garage, separated by several floors from her child, as he stays in the elevator and, presumably gets out on a floor apart from either of them.  Next thing you know, he is talking with Shannon about it, some miles away.  Why leave the two most vulnerable people alone when they have just been attacked?

Once such lapse in a script can be forgiven, two is the start of a pattern.  More than this is a preoccupation with other things than common sense.  In that very elevator scene, we are given an example of such a tact.  As The Driver realizes that he is sharing the elevator with a hit man, he immediately turns away from him and gives Irene a long, movie star type kiss.  In doing this, he is not only giving a good visual for the music blaring away in the soundtrack, but he is also giving an armed man an uncontested view at the back of his head.  Of course the hit man does not take the shot, and is easy prey to The Driver when the kiss completes.  Why does this happen?  That is easy.  It’s in the script.  Why is crap like this lauded?  I would not want to speculate.  It’s not good to gawk when a car ends up in the ditch.

(*** out of *****)

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