10.04.2011

Hey, Kid. You Want A Toothpick?

DRIVE (2011)
Driver being a Beast.
If you're looking for anything other than an anti-Hollywood, slow, Danish movie complete with long silences and 80s music, you will be disappointed. However, if you accept all of the above, you will be more than happy with the result. Drive will not let you get away with an adrenaline-infused car chase, a short stop, and a larger-than-life explosion. Instead, Drive is one of those movies that straps you in shotgun and won't let you go even after the ride has come to a full and complete stop. 

Image from listal.
The thing is, it's less a movie about cars and more a movie about Driver (Ryan Gosling). Driver is a beast. A straight-up, violent, brutal beast of a man. And there lies the brilliance of the movie. It starts off with a stilted romance between Driver and Irene (Carey Mulligan). It's awkward. They can't have a single conversation without five minute lulls between every sentence. They spend a lot of time doing what I can only call "look into each other's eyes, smile, and fall in love". Falling asleep yet? I was. Until I came up with a theory. And I hope like hell it's right, because otherwise that's just a fuck ton of awkward screenwriting, and I've seen Bronson (2008), so I know Nicolas Winding Refn is better than that.

Here's the theory: being human is hard for Driver. He has to be deliberate about it. He has to think about his words, he has to force them out of it. But as soon as you put him in the driver's seat...as soon as you put a lethal weapon in his hand, he becomes something else entirely. A beast. Being a killer is natural to him. Suddenly his words are quick and intense, thick with conviction. He doesn't have to think, he doesn't hesitate or freeze up. He simply does. The best part is, it only takes two scenes for this to really sink into the hilt. The first is his abrupt "teeth down your throat" conversation, the other is when he kicks the man's head in in the elevator. Brilliant, subtle, but to the point.

75% of the movie.

With that, I would very much like to call this a brilliant movie about one man's humanity and wash my hands of it. Except there's still something nagging. And that's the girlfriend, Irene, played by Carey Mulligan. I've got no problem with Carey Mulligan personally, she's gorgeous, I approve. The one thing that bugs me is the fact that she's just as socially awkward as Driver. Which wouldn't be a problem...except for the fact that it undermines my whole fucking argument. What're we supposed to glean from the fact that she seems just as comfortable to sit in silence for five minutes and smile at him? Is she some secret Bride-style killer who has trouble being human too? I don't think so. Whatever's going on there, it blows a hole in my theory and rubs me the wrong way.

Inconsistency aside, everyone else in the movie is brilliant. Bryan Cranston pulls off a fantastically frantic Shannon, Oscar Isaac does a great recently ex-con yet extremely sympathetic Standard, Christina Hendricks is a hilarious double-crossing whore (some things never change), and Albert Brooks plays a terrifying mobster. And Ron Perlman. Where the hell has he been on my life? Doing voice-overs? Ah, no, man. You've got a face like the fucking Hulk--use it! He steals every seen he's in with his vulgar, impulsive mobster brother, Nino. Through the two brothers, and on Driver's part, we get a lot of excellent gore. The gore is always shocking and never apologetic, which is a compliment considering the fact that we've all been numbed when it comes to excessive gore. Yet, somehow, they've managed to bring that hitched-inhale back into a good slit wrist, so more props to them.

The last thing I will harp on this movie for is the fact that it doesn't do well with closing minor arcs. They throw in bits of things that should have so much potential--the battered race car, as the most infuriating example. The thing literally does not leave the garage. And then there was that scene where he's driving away from the pawn shop at full speed...and just happens to have a bad guy crawling up his tail. What's this? I thought Driver was the best man behind the wheel out there? Does he suddenly have a nemesis who can beat him at his own game? No, not really. The "Nemesis Driver" goes up in smoke two seconds later and we never see him again. Little things that could've been fleshed out instead turn out to be red herrings, which really just leaves me itching to get my hands on the script and fill in the blank spaces. 

Other than that, the complaints are minor. The music was a little jarring from time to time, and not always in a good way. In a half-the-theater-broke-into-laughter kind of way. But, as I said, accept that it's a European style movie relying heavily on inspiration from Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), strap in, and enjoy the ride. And don't be surprised if you come out with a hankering for Driver's scorpion jacket.

16 comments:

  1. I have got to see this movie. And as for Ron Perlman...Do you watch Sons of Anarchy? That is bar none, the baddest motherfucking show on tv. I am addicted to it. Perlman plays Clay Morrow, the ruthless leader of Samcro (Sons of Anarchy Redwood Original). It's Hamlet meets motorcycle club created by the ultimate badass screenwriter Kurt Sutter. The women in here, while they are the old ladies of the bikers, are just awesome. Especially the matriarch, Gemma Teller-Morrow. Oh. My. Fucking. God. Katey Sagal is one of the most bad ass bitches I have ever seen over forty five on screen. Make that ever, really. Her character sticks a bitch til she dies, then smokes a cigarette while some dude cuts her up into pieces to dispose of the body. You have got to watch this show. It's insanely great in my opinion.

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  2. You're actually not the first to recommend Sons of Anarchy to me! I was avoiding it because...something about big, burly Hells Angels-style biker dudes just rubs me the wrong way. However, I've been told (and now confirmed by you) that the women are badfuckingass, so I'm thinking I definitely have to take a look at it. And the matriarch sounds like the shit! We need more "hard like panther" women on screen. Plus, I do love Ron Perlman's rough-like-sandpaper face. Going on the list!

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  3. The biker thing turned me off, too, but I happened to catch a rebroadcast ep when I was sick and man I was hooked. I am continually stunned at the shit that goes down each week.

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  4. I feel a little bit guilty saying that Drive needed more driving. When the action comes it is tense and artfully done without shying away from the extreme violence, but that all starts to go away as soon as the characters start talking, or sighing and looking at each other. Nice review.

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  5. @ Melissa--I'll definitely have to check it out! It's going on the list.

    @ Dan--I wouldn't feel guilty about it, I agree with you, the title is a bit misleading. And I was really disappointed that the race car...you know. Didn't make it out of the garage. I think the little action it had was done really well, but it was a bit misleading to label him as "Driver" and then have his car not actually be that personal to him, up until the end, maybe, when he had a bit of a Western last ride with his car. Thanks for commenting!

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  6. I actually thought that it was the "blank spaces" that made this such a great film. If there had been a lot more action I feel that it would have diminished the impact of the sequences that we did get. And my word, they were explosive.

    I like the way that you use the word subtle! A claw hammer to one guy, and stomping another guys head to mush! Not what I would call subtle!

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  7. I don't mind a non-actiony action film--I'm all for the slow pace and the way the movie takes its time. There were just certain arcs I wanted closed that were left too open to be satisfying. I'm sure they worked well in the novel it was based on (though I don't know how true-to-book it was), but moviewise I think it could've used a little assistance from Wolfe the Cleaner to take care of the loose ends.

    Ahahaha! I was wondering if someone was going to call me out on that! I just meant that his transformation to "the natural born killer Driver"--the way his speech comes quicker and how his actions suddenly have that much more conviction behind them--is the subtle bit. But you're right, cracking someone's skull under your boot is definitely a little less than subtle!

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  8. You'll want to move it up on the list, I think. Danny Trejo is playing a cartel captain named Romeo this season. BAMF to the hilt as always.

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  9. First of all, I'll second Melissa's recommendation: "Sons of Anarchy" is bar none the most badass TV series currently on air, and also brilliantly written and extremely well acted. If you have any more doubts about "SoA", don't.

    As for "Drive", saw it yesterday. I must admit your theory about Driver's personality is cool, and I haven't thought of it this way. Still, I think that screenplay-wise "Drive" was very average in character development and such. But, Winding Refn's direction and the cast's performances were impeccable!

    And that's what made the film work for me.

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  10. @ Melissa--Dammit, Danny Trejo is the way to my heart. Especially if they're going to be calling him Romeo.

    @ Ventilation Shaft--Now I really have no choice but to watch that show! I'll definitely have to catch on TV one of these days, if nothing else. I've already got a couple seasons of Battlestar Galactica to finish up on netflix (I think my inner nerd is showing...). But SoA will definitely be my new venture.

    I'm glad you like my theory about Driver! It was the only thing that really made the movie made sense to me, but maybe I'm just too literal minded to appreciate the aesthetic of silence. Then again, after seeing Bronson, I don't think Refn is one to shy away from films about men who seem to lack humanity as the average person sees it.

    But, like you said, whatever the case, the direction and cast performances were definitely what made the movie. Refn certainly took something which could've been very average and made it extraordinary.

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  11. "Dammit, Danny Trejo is the way to my heart. Especially if they're going to be calling him Romeo."

    Romero Parada is the name. But friends call him Romeo. And he just frowned upon the Sons in the last episode. So I'm sure shit's gonna hit the fan pretty soon.

    As a sidenote, there's a number of great actors who had appeared in the series so far in supporting roles, like:

    Mitch Pileggi (Skinner from 'X Files') as Ernest Darby, the local Neo-Nazi leader.

    Tom Arnold was in a couple of eps as Georgie Caruso, a porn-star studio owner.

    Henry Rollins was AJ Weston, the street leader, of the League of American Nationalists.

    Adam Arkin (of Chicago Hope fame) as the leader of the said League.

    Drea De Matteo played Hunnam's ex-wife in the first season.

    Plus, you'll surely come to appreciate other cast members like Kim Coates, Mark Boone Junior, and especially the lead Charlie Hunnam. Ray McKinnon shines this season as the Assistant U.S. Attorney Lincoln Potter.

    Anyway, I've gone off-topic long enough, but SoA usually makes me ramble about it a lot.

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  12. Please, do yourself a huge favor & don't bother watching the last 2 seasons of Battlestar. The writers got kinda dumb, repetitive, and rather full of it. If you stop at the end of S2, you can be content knowing you watched two brilliant seasons of Greek Space Tragedy with a neat cliffhanger. Everything after is like what Deniro's done to his career, & you can definitely spend your time better.

    I'll try to catch Drive soon - do you think it's something you have to catch in the theater?

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  13. @ Ventilation Shaft--Do not mess with a frowning Danny Trejo. He will fuck shit up.

    You're probably going to disown me, but I that lavish list of names only sounds vaguely familiar to me. And mostly just because I IMDBed them. Which only means I have a hell of a lot of watching to do. I'm definitely going to check out SoA, now that I have so much backing behind it! Ranting is always good for the soul, especially when something is badass enough to deserve a good rant.

    @ Thaddeus--That is a depressing thing to hear! So far, it's one of my favorite Geek shows I've seen, ever, possibly shows period. But I might just be a little too infatuated with Starbuck for my own good. Either way, I'll probably end up getting through the whole show just because I have friends that would eat me alive if I didn't--when I do, I'll definitely let you know what I think! So far, I'm barely through the first half of season 2, so I've got a lot of catching up to do.

    And honestly...I think you can rent Drive. Even though some might slaughter me for saying that. But the fact is, I only pay to see a movie in theaters if the explosions are big enough, or if there's some huge futuristic set design that demands a big screen. Otherwise, I wait, and review once the hype is over and the review is irrelevant. Drive's good, but the action is scattered about in short bursts--it'll pack just as much of a punch on a smaller screen.

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  14. Cool theory. Refn thinks of the character as "like a superhero" when he becomes the driver (initially in his moonlighting jobs) Clearly his abilities apply to killing as well, I think action is the thing. Not so good at hanging out with people though. I liked how he clicked instantly with the kid though, none of the awkward stuff there. Anyways, he clearly would rather drive off into the sunset than play house, so it all worked out. ALbert Brooks though. wow, he was awesome.

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  15. Niiice! I like that "Superman" spin on it. "Natural born killer", "Superman", it's all different heads of the same coin. Either way, definite larger than life character falling in with reality and trying to piece the two together.

    "Anyways, he clearly would rather drive off into the sunset than play house, so it all worked out." So very true. Great assessment! Albert Brooks really was the shit, definitely underrated as hell in this movie.

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  16. If you want your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend to come crawling back to you on their knees (no matter why you broke up) you got to watch this video
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    (VIDEO) Win your ex back with TEXT messages?

    ReplyDelete

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