‘Drive’ Offers a Smooth Cinematic Ride

Eric Bourse, El Vaquero Staff Writer

Despite having a handsome lead star, fast cars, menacing villains and a beautiful damsel in distress, “Drive” is nothing like your standard action-thriller. Thank goodness for that.

“Drive”  is directed by Danish filmmaker, Nicolas Winding Refn, whose work includes the existential arthouse Viking film, “Valhalla Rising” (2009) and “The Pusher” Trilogy. The screenplay is written by Hossein Amini (“Shanghai,” 2010) and is based on the novel by James Sallis.

Ryan Gosling (“Crazy, Stupid, Love,” 2011) stars as the film’s quiet and stoic hero, who is simply known as Driver. Driver’s daytime job is a Hollywood stunt driver and mechanic. However, at night he is a wheel-man, a driver who delivers robbers and criminals safely from the police after their heist is complete.

Driver falls in love with his neighbor, Irene, played by Carey Mulligan (“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” 2010). While their attraction is mutual, Irene has a son and husband, Standard, who returns from prison. Standard’s joyful reunion with his family is short-lived as he gets severely beaten because of a large debt to a thug and the lives of Irene and her son are threatened. Driver offers his services to Standard as a way to make sure Irene and the child are kept from harm’s way.

When Standard’s pawn shop heist goes wrong, the movie kicks into high-gear with nerve-wracking tension and brutal scenes of violence.

The film’s romance between Driver and Irene is a particularly unique one considering that there isn’t much dialogue between these two characters at all. Their love isn’t overdrawn or clichéd.

Despite an almost non-existent back story, Driver is by no means a simple character. He is a rather taciturn fellow who only speaks when it is necessary and his skills behind the wheel are untouchable. He develops an immediate connection with Irene and her son, Benicio. And while his love for them seems pure, there is a serious disconnect in the mind of Driver.

An example of this is demonstrated in one of the film’s most memorable scenes in which Driver finds Irene to warn her that her life is in danger. They unknowingly enter an elevator with a mobster who was sent to kill the star-crossed lovers.

The hero eases in for a kiss and the two lock lips. When they finish kissing, the mobster makes one false move and after a few quick and furious blows, Driver is stomping the man’s face in.

Gosling does an excellent job in his first role that requires action scenes. While there are no lengthy action scenes, Gosling is always convincing. In the beginning of the film, his character is soft spoken and has more of a reactive personality. After the botched heist, his character is the one making plans and is even frantic when things don’t go according to plan. While Gosling has done a variety of roles, his performance as Driver is one of his most unique in his flourishing career.

The standout performance in the film is by Albert Brooks, who plays the main villain, Bernie Rose. “Drive” marks Brooks’ first onscreen performance since 2006’s “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World” as well as his first role playing a villain. Brooks, who has routinely played likeable and amicable characters, will surprise audience members. Rose is a calculating and coldblooded mobster who will stop at nothing until Driver is dead.

Despite an impressive cast of actors, which includes Bryan Cranston (“Contagion,” 2011) and Ron Perlman (“Conan the Barbarian,” 2011), the real star of the film is the directing.

Although the bulk of the action doesn’t occur until more than halfway into the film, there is never a dull moment in “Drive” because of its pacing as well as stunning camera work. The soundtrack works in beautiful harmony with the cinematography, and at times has a hypnotizing effect with electronic music and Los Angeles’ neon lights and city-scapes.

Audiences expecting a film like “The Transporter” or “The Fast and Furious” will most likely be disappointed and bored with “Drive.” However, those looking for a stylized, intelligent and unique neo-noir need look no further. Refn’s film is already the standout film of 2011.

“Drive” runs 100 minutes. Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some nudity.

5 out of 5 stars