Danish filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn’s latest film Drive stars Ryan Gosling as the brooding hero and Carey Mulligan as his token damsel in distress. Visually stunning, this noir-style thriller gets bogged down with weak dialogue, but once the action picks up it is a thrilling ride that fans of gory action movies are sure to love.
Ryan Gosling plays the driver, a Hollywood stuntman by day who moonlights as a wheelman by night, remaining nameless the whole film. To say he is a man of few words would be an understatement; he probably says less than fifty words the entire film. He is a stoic, existential hero in the vein of old Clint Eastwood western movies. He does his getaway driver work begrudgingly and anonymously, using a fake phone to converse with the crooks and making it clear that he is not involved with anything beyond driving.
Carey Mulligan plays his beautiful neighbor Irene, a single mother who is struggling to make ends meet while her loser husband is in jail. Her ill-fated relationship with the driver develops at a snail’s pace, partially because of their inability to converse normally. Their conversations are excruciatingly drawn out, with exaggerated pauses between each short, soft-spoken sentence. Apparently the director thought this would make their relationship seem more intimate or meaningful, but it was definitely a bit over-the-top, and had many audience members laughing during scenes that were meant to be serious.
Just as the driver’s relationship with Irene is starting to heat up, Irene’s husband Standard is released from prison. Played by Oscar Isaac, Standard is an alcoholic thug who owes a significant amount of money to the wrong people. When Irene and her son’s safety are put in danger, Gosling’s character steps in and offers to help Standard steal the money he owes. Nothing goes according to plan and the driver suddenly finds himself enemy number one to a gang of murderous mobsters.
Gosling plays the archetypal character well, although at times it is hard to take him seriously; there’s just something about his signature crooked smile that is too reminiscent of The Notebook. However, he does a good job of breaking out of that mold as the film progresses. Mulligan does a decent job playing Irene, although she isn’t really given much to work with, as most of her scenes involve her looking forlorn and depressed. It would have been nice to see her character take a more active role instead of just being the typical damsel in distress we have come to expect in action movies.
Also making notable appearances are Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks. Cranston plays Shannon, an anxious mechanic who is always planning his next get-rich-quick scheme. The driver works part-time in his garage when he’s not picking up stuntman driving jobs. Hendricks plays Blanche, the sometimes -girlfriend of the thug Standard owes money to. She accompanies the driver and Standard on their ill-fated heist, although her intentions are shrouded in mystery. Hendricks’ transition from office beauty in Mad Men to the hard-living Blanche was wonderfully done, and she did a good job of evoking the desperation of a criminal.
Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman both play leaders of the Jewish mob that targets the driver after he inadvertently ends up with their money. It was a good departure from Brooks’ wholesome work, who previously voiced Marlin in Finding Nemo. Despite his character’s awful actions, we are still able to feel some sympathy towards him, as it is obvious he does not relish doing the things he has to do in order to save his own skin. Perlman was equally as believable as the cold-hearted Nino, bringing a lot more depth to the role.
As far as the action scenes, this movie is not for the faint-hearted. It has almost as much gore as a Quentin Tarantino flick; prepare to see faces caved in, heads blown off and other maimings. Having set the tone of a classic, noir-style film, the CGI effects that take over during the action scenes are actually a little jarring at first. It doesn’t quite match the film style when the driver suddenly starts fighting back and taking names, but action buffs won’t mind the stylistic jump too much.
Drive certainly delivers plenty of action. The story may not be entirely new for an action film, but the way it is delivered adds a whole new dimension. The dialogue is a bit slow, but once the action picks up you forget that entirely. Definitely go see this in theatres if you are craving an action film with a little artistic integrity.