Drive: An Overdue Review….sort of

Some time ago, I saw the movie Drive with a long-time movie friend of mine in Charlotte. At the time, I thought about writing a review. Even started a post about it and then ended up deleting it. [Note: there may be spoilers here–I’m not certain I can write about it without some, so be warned.]

I had mixed feelings about it and wasn’t exactly sure I liked it. I don’t care for Ryan Gosling (Crazy Stupid Love, Blue Valentine and [wretch] The Notebook) who plays the lead mostly because I always think of a tiny little baby Aflack every time I see his name. Carrie Mulligan (Brothers and upcoming next year The Great Gatsby)is a pretty girl but I know next to nothing about her acting really. But I thought, hey a movie about a get-away driver sounds cool to me. I love car movies.

And I do. Ok, I know that’s highly unsophisticated of me but it is the truth. Give me a good action movie with some powerful muscle cars and good chase scenes and I’m pretty happy.

This is not a chase movie. Yeah, there’s a chase or two but it’s not what you think. This is not a car movie. Yeah, there’s more than a few scenes involving cars but they are not really even significant set pieces.

Basic outline is this: Gosling’s stoic and nearly non-verbal character (whose name I do not think we ever learn) is a stunt driver, mechanic and get-away driver who gets involved in some way or another with his neighbor, Irene (Mulligan) whose husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac-Robin Hood, Agora, Body of Lies) is released from prison. Gosling ends up helping Standard for a cacophony of unspoken reasons, landing him in a huge mess.

The heavies are Ron Pearlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy) and Albert Brooks. Yes, I said Albert Brooks as a heavy. A somewhat congenial heavy that doesn’t scare the hell out of you like Ron Pearlman does, but a bad guy all the same.

[Confession: Pearlman scares me. Bad. Like, if I met him in a dark alley (that I wouldn’t go down in the first place) I think I’d just die of fright. Don’t know why, but he does.]

Driver is a stoic character. Silent, almost utterly so. I think he speaks a dozen lines in the whole movie. But his presence leaves an indelible mark. Gosling is almost ethereally beautiful and contrasted against this character, it left an impression I will long remember. His white satin jacket with a gold embroidered scorpion on the back seems like a dated wardrobe piece at first but it foreshadows something beyond what seems like still waters.

Dialog is important to me as a movie watcher, as is conversation in real life, but the relationship that Driver and Irene develop is communicated largely by lingering shots that make you feel almost like you want to turn away–as though you are spying on two people’s vulnerable emotional exchange and you shouldn’t see it. Driver’s relationship with Irene’s son is more than touching. The film is not too heavy handed here either, just giving images and scenes of moments he and the boy share including more than one where the child is wrapped in Driver’s scorpion jacket.

When Standard is released and his indebtedness to various bad guys, endangering both Irene and the child, is revealed, Driver decides to help him. The reasons are never spelled out. Maybe to protect Irene, protect the boy, protect them both. Maybe Driver is a good guy. Maybe he is a hero. The truth is, this is one of those parts of the movie I truly like. It reminded me of the movie After The Wedding. Human relationships cannot always be boiled down to single motivations for actions. Sometimes, we do things that do not seem like what we “ought” to do or what “most people” would do. Real life is more complicated than that. Humans are more complicated than that.

And then everything turns horribly violent. I mean horribly, kick a guy to death with your boots beat a man to death with a hammer in a fevered rage kind of violent. Scorpion violent.

Two incredibly beautiful and horrible images stick with me. One, a shot of Gosling’s angelic face splattered with blood as he gasps air to retain control after he kills various people in a hotel room. Two, a scene in an elevator with Driver and Irene. They enter the elevator. Driver recognizes a man who has come to kill…well… probably all of them. In one graceful move he reaches behind him, moves Irene into the corner of the elevator, turns around and kisses her. It is the only time they kiss in the film. It is one of those time-outside-of-time moments that for just a second you forget that the bad guy is in the elevator or that something has to be done about him. And then Driver releases her. He turns, with the same graceful motion, to face the bad guy and proceeds to beat him to death. And, by beat him to death, I mean I could not watch it and even the guy with me said “oooh!” at one point.

In the end, what happens to Driver and Irene and the boy? Well, I can’t tell you everything! But it did not end picture perfect. But not necessarily tragically either, for them anyway.

The memorable thing about the film for me was the horrific violence and beautiful tenderness mixed up together, both unapologetically. Driver’s tenderness with the boy and silent vulnerability with Irene are portrayed unashamedly as is his lightning switch to unreserved violence. This is a film I recommend seeing. It is a good story, good acting, good filming, interesting music. But it is not a film I think most people will have a single emotion about. I love it, but I also recoil from it. I am drawn to its tenderness and its far more realistic portrayal of the complexity of relationships even with minimal dialog and hypnotized by the intensity of its characters.

See it. You will not regret it.

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