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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 16.18%
Just Average: 4.41%
Pretty Crappy: 25%
Sucks: 5.88%

6 reviews, 32 user ratings

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by Jack Sommersby

2 stars

Overpraised and odious, it's the kind of motion picture that promises a way better time than it's actually capable of delivering.

Stylishly directed but pathetically scripted, Drive is an egregious piece of existential cinema that's at best when carrying us along with a dreamy assuredness, and at its worst when slowing down and drowning us in a sea of empty-headed platitudes meant to "tell us something" about the fragility of the human condition. As if flat-out pretentiousness wasn't enough, the proceedings are highly derivative of Walter Hill's The Driver and Michael Mann's Thief, two superior pictures that, flaws and all, didn't make you groan at any vacuous attempts at profoundness. Like Hill's also-Los-Angeles-set tale, the lead loner of a character, played by Ryan Gosling, doesn't go by any name: he's just an extraordinaire behind the wheel of a car who hires himself out to criminals as a getaway driver, and, like Ryan O'Neal's The Driver title character, he's a martinet about making his clients stick to his golden rule of never being late to the car after the robbery starts -- five minutes and he's out of there, no exceptions. During the day he gives himself over to a regular job as a garage mechanic, and occasionally as a Hollywood stunt driver; though he has plenty of money coming in, without any family or girlfriend, he chooses to live in a desolate, nondescript apartment in Echo Park. It's quite the understatement that his tight-lipped self isn't much company or for having much in the way of company -- he's got that Bresson/Schrader lonely-guy aura about him that director Nicolas Winding Refn, with his overdeliberate camerawork accentuating the obvious in the sparsely shot interior scenes, and composer Cliff Martinez, with his ramped-up ultra-moody score hammering away at you with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, blatantly ape. Maybe in the book by James Sallis that the movie is adapted from there's revealing narration and introspection, which isn't always easy to translate into celluloid short of a first-person voice-over; and though Drive is thankfully absent of overexplicit dialogue spelling out bottled-up emotions, its dramatic base is just as clunky for being all too intentionally empty so we can have sympathy for a cut-off talented and handsome man who's chosen to be dead inside. In other words, the moviemakers have tried making the ultimate art-house action picture. Yet it's only in the fantastic action sequences where we respond to it because we're always miles ahead not only of the limited character study, but the predictable story turns that are telegraphed several zip codes away.

One would think the Driver would get some kick out of doing dangerous stunts for the movies, and maybe some pleasure from working on cars, but he remains reticent without an iota of gleam in his eyes -- even while outmaneuvering police cars during high-speed chases, he doesn't take much pleasure from it. And since he doesn't seem to care a whole lot about the percentage of the booty of stolen money he takes for his services, we can't get a handle on what makes the guy tick. (Did the moviemakers model him after the similarly vapid central character in the unaffecting The Social Network?) Thrown into the mix is Irene (Carey Mulligan), a young neighbor down the hall who has a young son and a husband in prison; after a contrived bit with her car breaking down in the parking lot of the same store where, conveniently, the Driver buys his groceries, he gives her a ride home and is invited into her apartment. Gradually, he takes a liking to them both, but right when a romance threatens to start Irene gets news that her husband will be released the next week. Then there's crime boss Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), who the Driver's garage employer is in cahoots with and has urged to invest a lot of money in a surefire car that he wants the Driver to compete in to make them millions on the racing circuit. All of this in just a couple of days, and on this rusted chassis of a plot comes a barrage of even more contrivances and conveniences as to make the most mediocre sitcom writer positively weep with envy. Irene's husband wants to remain clean for the good of his family but is coerced into participating in a robbery of a pawn shop by the same people who afforded him "protection" in prison. And, gracious alive, wouldn't you know the Driver, who's allowed himself to care about this family, agrees to help out to get these hoods off the husband's back? And, maybe, just maybe, since there's no other discernible reason for Bernie to be in the movie (and for a notable actor of Brooks' status for playing him), everyone's paths eventually intersect in a web of dirty deals and double crosses. Suffice to say, Drive is the very definition of self-conscious minimalism in both character and story terms, and so much so that if it weren't for the bountiful array of pregnant pauses, with wordless scenes carried over way past the welcome mark, the running time would be about half its one-hundred minutes, and the end result is more gaseous than galvanizing.

Still, Drive has its compensations. For a while the hypnotic editing rhythms effortlessly pull us in, and we're tempted to believe we're in the hands of artists who know exactly what they're doing. I hated Danish director Refn's stodgy made-for-HBO Fear X (with John Turturro), which tried way too hard at being an atypical thriller and wound up a joyless unthriller. But his work here is a lot looser, and though every shot and scene is formally controlled, they're not lacking in spontaneity. He's great at conveying expressiveness from the gleaming nighttime exteriors that the Driver clearly feels most comfortable in the midst of; working with the superb cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (who made an impressive directorial debut with an HBO movie of his own, Point of Origin), Refn gives us bold color schemas that are luxuriously supple yet balanced out by several understated film-noir touches that rein in any potential for undue excess. The movie may not be alive contextually, but visually it's a feast -- eye candy, yes, but eye candy that's disciplined. And while the car chases lack the bravura finesse of Hill's, they're sharply done with fine spatial logistics so we always know where the Driver and the police (and later, a car driven by some hoods) are in relation to each other. And Refn makes uncanny use of slow-motion, especially in a marvelously staged scene in an elevator where the Driver manages to dispatch a bad guy while keeping Irene safe to the side. But the gore is way overdone -- there's more gushing blood on display than in the last five slasher flicks put together, and it's too uncouthly presented to serve as any kind of commentary on the brutality of violence. Finally, the performances are first-rate. Brooks, usually a comic actor, is imaginatively cast as the head villain, and though he lacks the intensity his ill-defined role probably calls for, he's always a treat to watch. Mulligan is like a less-mannered Michelle Williams; and Oscar Isaac, as the husband, brings some unexpected shading to the role. But the standout is Gosling, who's absolutely mesmerizing from start to finish. He miraculously succeeds in giving variety and girth to the Driver, and he speaks his lines stunningly, even though the words coming out of his mouth are old-hat genre leftovers. Not particularly tall or well-muscled, when his unblinking character stands up to men with beefier physiques, through sheer concentration and focus, Rosling never makes us doubt for a second this Driver is no one to mess with. What a captivating screen presence! If only the movie were worthy of his stellar efforts.

The movie is frustratingly diaphanous in that it initially sticks to hard-edged realities only to give way to whopping implausibilities and inconsistencies later on down the line just so the story can progress. We're led to believe the Driver is a man of honor, willing to take risks for the good of his clients if they adhere to his five-minute rule, but in the first robbery he abets in, after temporarily losing the cops and then abruptly leaving the car in a downtown parking garage where a college party crowd is busy celebrating in it, he casually walks away from just as the police are descending on the garage, making his black-ski-masked clients left in the vehicle easy targets for arrest. Hill's Driver may not have liked the people he worked for, but he was loyal to them if they were punctual: even if he heard police sirens in the near-horizon, he didn't panic and take off; and while O'Neal lacked Gosling's magnetism, his was more of a definitive character, and you could get a succinct reading on him no matter his impersonality. And what are we to make of the Driver engaging in a shootout in a motel, successfully doing in two goons only to make no move to hurriedly leave the premises before the cops can show up? Why does he go back to the garage of his employer even though he told the man he needs to disappear for his own sake? Yep, just so he can find a dead man, who himself was immensely stupid for taking his time to clear out with a suitcase just so someone can show up there to kill him. And why, pray tell, does the Driver not bother to change out of his blood-splattered jacket for the last fifteen minutes or so, walking around in public in broad daylight where any sane-minded bystander would surely call this into the police? Oh, I know why -- because he knows he's an inevitable dead man, so why change the appearance when it fits the bill? (Because the wife's husband unexpectedly came back from jail, like James Caan's thief in Mann's picture, the Driver just knows he's inevitably doomed to fail, anyway, when trying to make something of a normal domestic life.) Drive reminds of the equally empty and smug Pulp Fiction in its asinine assumption that all this prevailing "happening" attitude is enough to coast it over countless absurdities, that it's supposedly substantial enough in the area of manner to automatically overcome its lackadaisical matter. So even when Bernie's given a fine moment where he fatally slashes someone's arm and soothingly tells the person while he's dying, "It's okay, it's over -- there's no pain," you're still nonplussed because of all the hokum preceding it. A better title for this well-cast but insulting piece of cinematic hodgepodge would've been Drivel.

No special features on the DVD, folks; but, like Gosling's star performance, the video transfer is outstanding.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=21892&reviewer=327
originally posted: 01/31/12 20:16:16
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2011 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell solid imho 4 stars
11/22/13 Lord It's overrated 1 stars
3/27/13 Eggy Joe Loved the feel, look and Gosling's character 5 stars
8/05/12 Matthew Thompson Dalldorf Ryan Gosling reminded me of Paul Newman in 'Cool Hand Luke' 5 stars
8/01/12 TreeTiger Rob Gonsalves' review nails it perfectly. 2 stars
7/18/12 John P. Eastwood's silent gunslinger transformed into a noir-ish avenger 4 stars
5/29/12 Matt For the love of God, I don't get why people like this movie. TERRIBLE. 2 stars
5/25/12 Louise Loved it! And Ryan is a sight for sore eyes! 5 stars
3/20/12 Luis I thought it was pretty good 4 stars
3/11/12 g. Fantastic. 5 stars
2/09/12 Yep Solid, interesting and competant 4 stars
2/05/12 Monday Morning Slow, crude, crappy soundtrack, depressing, boring, 90% = waste of time. 2 stars
1/22/12 action movie fan heat and reservoir dogs top this feeble copy attempt hands down=dull film 2 stars
11/16/11 Steve Capell Fast watch through cars and sin! 4 stars
10/25/11 ashley rexrode boring movie. dont waste your money 1 stars
10/14/11 Roger Loved It! 5 stars
10/13/11 mr.mike Is "No bad". 4 stars
10/11/11 lin drive = shane in essence. how's that not rich in thought ? 4 stars
10/10/11 JP Ward Interesting but tonally conflicting. Sunny pop undermines dark ambience. 3 stars
10/07/11 Langano Very well done. Great mood & style. 4 stars
10/02/11 Kim Kelly Takes its time, can be intense, not for everyone.. Enjoyed Gosling as usual 3 stars
9/25/11 asg Great restraint from a damaged soul by Gosling 4 stars
9/21/11 HighNoon Did the critic really see this movie? Finally a real movie instead of mindless action film 5 stars
9/21/11 laloca lack of dialogue != deep and meaningful. a pile of emo crap. 2 stars
9/20/11 Moonshot Lotta good/lotta bad - the songs ruined it - been better off w/ more silence 3 stars
9/20/11 Elspeth R (on Wordpress) Hoorah, further kindred spirits! Why is silence and violence considered cool? 1 stars
9/19/11 HighNoon Just the best movie of 2011 5 stars
9/19/11 Goon Crappy hipster chic acted out by robots 1 stars
9/17/11 Darkstar Unbelieveably awesome movie. 10+/10 5 stars
9/17/11 John G Well-done - but, NO MICHAEL MANN IS REFN - "HEAT" "COLLATERAL" for noir defined nuff said 4 stars
9/16/11 tyler perry's tyler perrier yo peter, you just called drive "dream" in the last para. 5 stars
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  16-Sep-2011 (R)
  DVD: 31-Jan-2012


  DVD: 31-Jan-2012

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