The opening scene of “Drive” is a slick and stylistic introduction to what the rest of the film aims to be – a tense yet deliberate car driving action picture. The opening scene happens to be one of the film’s best and its one of the few scenes that could be called memorable. But that’s not saying “Drive” is a bad movie. It has several things going for it. But underneath the crafty and stylish surface lies a fairly simple and conventional action thriller. From its lead character to the story development, everything moves along at a pretty measured pace with a straightforward narrative. Yet in the end I never connected with it like many others have.
Ryan Gosling plays a movie stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway wheelman for an assortment of shady characters. He’s only refered to as “the driver” or “the kid”. Gosling’s dialogue is sparse and he is required to reveal his character mainly through expressions and actions. We never get any background information on him and his character really isn’t fleshed out all that well. But in a way I liked that. I liked drawing my own conclusions based on his associations, occasional turns towards violence, and his compassion for Irene (Carey Mulligan), a neighbor from his apartment building with whom he begins a relationship. Their relationship consists of several scenes of the two looking and grinning at each other along with the occasional afternoon drive. Irene is raising her young son while her husband is away in prison and the driver is instantly attached to them both.
Their growing relationship hits a speed bump when her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) gets out of prison. Standard genuinely wants to turn his life around but some old debts make that a little hard. The driver agrees to help Standard mainly due to his affection for Irene and her son. Albert Brooks is good as mob guy Bernie Rose who, along with his partner Nino (Ron Perlman), are tied into Shannon (Bryan Cranston), a garage owner who supplies the driver with getaway jobs. Brooks’ character is the prototypical mob “bad guy” but with his own idiosyncrasies. He provides some fantastic scenes but unfortunately he all but disappears through the middle of the film. That’s a shame because I would love to see him get a little more screen time.
As I mentioned, “Drive” and its story are pretty straightforward. There’s not much that broadsides you nor is there anything that calls for your extra attention. There’s nothing especially unique and there aren’t any big surprises with the exception of a couple of brutally violent scenes that can be quite jarring. Speaking of the violence, it’s implementation into the movie is actually quite strange. The more graphic scenes of violence tend to involve lower level characters but what should be the more important scenes seem to be depicted through shadows, quick cut-aways, or far off camera shots. I feel this was obviously a stylistic choice but I found it more puzzling than engaging.
Speaking of style, “Drive” looks fantastic. Director Nicolas Winding Refn cleverly uses light and camera angles to give the picture its own unique look. The driving scenes from inside the car look great with Refn transitioning from one camera angle to another with an artistic flare. And yet with all he’s trying to do, he never loses control of his camera whether in a high-speed car chase or a conversation at the dinner table. I also loved his use of sound. Many times he cuts the music and just let’s the natural sound effects carry the scene. “Drive” is just an all-around technically impressive picture.
While it seems I’ve been a little hard on “Drive” and it’s almost run-of-the-mill action movie storyline, I was drawn to many things in the picture. The opening scene does an amazing job grabbing its audience and immediately getting them involved. And while the story may lack a real feel of originality, I see it more as an homage to not only several particular films but to a specific style of movies. I also found myself interested and invested throughout. I think the performances are uniformly strong. Gosling is given the most restrictions but he manages to do a nice job. Carey Mulligan is wonderful as always and Brooks, Cranston, and Isaac are particularly good. Like I said, there’s plenty to like about “Drive”.
Great review, Keith. We’re pretty much on the same page on this one! Your first paragraph perfectly encapsulates my thoughts. Loved Carey Mulligan in this one but wasn’t feeling the villains AT ALL. Brooks was about as menacing as a puppy and Perlman was annoyingly over the top.
I know a lot of people REALLY loved this movie but I never thought it was as fresh and inventive as they did. It’s a good movie but it did have some issues.
Yeah, same here. I also thought it needed a bit of energy.
That’s a GREAT word for it. A bit more energy injected would have helped.
I saw it for the first time just a couple of weeks ago. It may have been hyped a bit but I still thought it was excellent. The robbery with Standard was plenty intense. The moments of violence were disturbing and realistic. I have to disagree with Fernando, Brooks was scary because he seems so innocuous. He used those knives just right.
I liked Brooks which is why I think the movie suffers when he just disappears. Outside of him and a couple of bursts of violence, the movie doesn’t seem to have much pop. But again, its a good film. It’s just not one that I can get behind as others have.
Nice review. I liked the film more than you and it was one of my favorites of 2011. I concur that the opening scene is pretty amazing.
Thanks. I know of many who really loved this film. I wish it could have excited me a bit more than it did. Still 3.5 is a pretty good score.
I think it’s one of the greatest films made in the last 20 years. I don’t see it as a driving action film, I see more as a love story when a mysterious guy finds a family and learns to love. Unfortunately he has to go back to his old ways and do violent things to protect them. When you combine the soundtrack and Scarface type action scenes you get a gem of a film.
That’s high praise buddy. I’m glad it works for you (an many others). I didn’t feel it had the spark the be a great love story and the story of going back to a life of crime wasn’t that new. I guess those were a couple of my complaints. STILL, its a good movie to me.
I’ve watched it about 20 times now and it gets better with each view. It’s funny how we all have different tastes in film and that’s what makes it so exciting. 🙂
Oh I know! That’s actually a great thing about movies! In fact I have a commentary written and ready to post on that very thing! It’ll go up when I get back from vacation.
Good, then I can argue my point once again that Drive is a perfect film! lol
I think Drive is one of the best films of recent years and certainly the best of 2011, but that’s just IMO. I concede it is heavily stylised but that for me is it’s greatest strength creating a truly memorable feel – cool and fresh and very eighties. I thought it was awesome Keith but you do make good, well argued points.
Fair enough my friend. One of the reason I chose as an overlooked review to repost was because I knew it had a big following. I agree its stylized but nothing that just really sets it apart as dynamic or highly original. It just didn’t have the energy or originality of a truly spectacular film. It didn’t even make my Top 10 but I know MANY people who had it high on their list. But again, I certainly don’t think it’s a bad film by any stretch.
no worries Keith and nothing wrong in liking different things, god I like some stuff others just dont. We all have an opinion and you have defended and justified yours very well.
Hey dude, speaking of that, be sure to check the site next week. I’ve got a post written and talking about different tastes in movies.
I completely get what you say here Keith. The first few minutes into DRIVE, I absolutely hated it. I didn’t know WTF it was supposed to be. Once I realized the 80’s influence, and the fact that ‘the driver’ was intentionally a monosyllabic guy… I just sat back and enjoyed the nostalgia.
Although, I was expecting some sort of ‘ex military seal’ background story to the character. So I was very pleased when we didn’t get any reveal of his backstory.
Thanks man. It’s interesting how the film blew some people away yet I saw it as a pretty ordinary story. Good but ordinary.
You are wrong and criminally underscoring it
Love Tyson 🙂
LOL. Sorry man. It just lacked the energy and especially originality to make it feet to me. And Gosling does exactly what he’s asked to do. Unfortunately that is to be as lifeless as possible. Very good movie but not what I would call great. But that’s just little old me speaking!
Haha, the first thing I did when I saw the score was scroll down to see what Tyson had commented 🙂
Lol – yeah can’t let this sort of rating slide without having my say 😉
He is a “Drive” apologist I’ve learned! 😉
Hi Keith, you already know this but I’m actually not enthused at all to see this one. I’m not fond of Gosling and just from what I’ve seen, it just doesn’t interest me. Plus there are some really violent scenes my friends warned me about. Sorry, but there are other movies I’d rather check out than this one. In any case, glad you’re not as in love with it as others do.
I don’t see you really loving this one. As I mentioned I thought it was pretty good but honestly its not so good that I think you’re really missing out. But there are some who absolutely love it.
Oh, and as for Gosling, his performance here won’t do anything to change your mind about him. 🙂
Too bad you didn’t connect with it more, Tyson. Maybe it had gotten a little overrated by the time you saw it? I thought it was one of the best films of the year that year. Definitely NOT an action movie, but a great crime drama, IMO.
I wish I could look past what I thought was a pretty simple and basic story. Certainly a good film but for me it wasn’t great as some people perceive it.
Parts of me can see where the fascination of this movie comes from, but other parts just can’t see it and continue to search for the meaning. Oh well. That’s what makes movies, movies. Not everybody’s going to see the same things as the others and this is probably the most clear-cut example of that fact. Nice review Keith.
Thanks man. I think you worded that perfectly. Well said.
I’m a big fan of this one, although I can definitely see where you’re coming from over some of your issues. I just thought it was so damn cool and it looked great and had a wicked soundtrack which did help me overlook so of its problems.
I get what you’re saying. I just can’t go too crazy over it because of its lack of originality, sputtering romance, and sometimes lifeless feel. Still, a very entertaining flick.
3.5 !!!! Blasphemy, I say 😉
You Gosling homers make up a tough crowd!!! 😀
Awesome review! I agree that without the visual side and music the story is pretty conventional. But the execution is what is so appealing here. I think out of many recent movies this one may become cult classic in the future. The atmosphere, the songs, the driving scenes during night have this mysterious charm to them.
Thanks a lot! You’re right. I just don’t think that charm is enough to push it into classic territory for me. Just too many shortcomings.
Good to hear a balanced review for this film, Keith. I enjoyed it more than you did, I think, but I appreciate your points and why you found it less than “the best film of the year” like so many….
I appreciate that. Likewise I can respect the overwhelming love that many pour onto this film. But for me, the slick style can’t fully cover up the lack of originality and sometimes bland story. Still I don’t want to come off like I dislike it. It’s still a good movie.
What? Just… what? 3.5 for Drive? I’ll need to have another look that. Surely not?! 😉
I LOVE this movie, man. Sure it’s an old tried and tested story, in line with Alan Ladd’s Shane or Eastwood’s The Man With No Name but my god, man, it effective. This film just oozes class. It’s a real favourite of mine.
You’re wrong, bro, but nice write up anyways. 😉
LOL, really though? Tried and true for sure. For me its style can only cover up so much. From Gosling’s lifeless performance to the general lack of energy. It’s a movie that seems more into looking cool than telling a better story. I mean even its best feature (Brooks) vanishes for a huge chunk of the movie.
I don’t know bro. This is a film that that I enjoyed. I thought it was worth watching. I just can’t get too excited especially considering its overall pretty basic.
You mean we’re splitting hairs here?
Man, I thought you had taste. 😉
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