Film Reviews


By • Sep 20th, 2011 •

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A silent psychopath with a heart of gold.

Driving a getaway car doesn’t pay much. Driver (Ryan Gosling) works in a garage and is a part-time stunt driver for movies. He freelances for thugs. He’s a loner with not much to say. He’s also a vicious psychopath with a heart of gold.

His neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) is an angelic waitress at a fast food place. She has a six-year-old son Benicio (Kaden Leos). Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is in jail. Irene is the basement Daisy Buchanan of DRIVE.* How did Daisy find herself in DRIVE?

Driver has been watching too many heist movies. He’s got a con’s code – no matter what comes down, he’ll wait five minutes at the scene of the heist and then drive off. He’s got nerves of steel and is not in it for the money. We are never told what his motivation is.

When we see him at work, he’s brilliant.

Wait – he’s a ruthless torturer and a hammer-wielding murderer. And when he kills a man in his apartment elevator, so what? The cops are not going to interview anyone. And with his blood-stained, white faux-leather jacket, he blends right into the background noise of gritty, police-free Los Angeles.

Driver is not only a loner but lonely. He meets Irene cute – her car breaks down – and takes an unusual liking to her and her son. He’s over there every night putting Benicio to sleep! Driver’s boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) is the character who provides Driver’s backstory. Shannon is also in bed with nasty Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his henchman/pizza owner Nino (Ron Perlman). Driver is going to drive in competition for Rose.

When Standard comes home and is threatened by thugs to hold up a pawn shop, Driver agrees to do the driving, provided that Irene and Benicio are guaranteed protection. And who is behind the million dollar heist?

What is it about sedated Irene that Driver throws away his code of ethics? Remember thief Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) in HEAT? He ignored his first, and only, commandment. He said: “A guy told me one time, “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.””

McCauley disappointed us. So does Driver.

Driver throws away his life’s handbook. But Driver is a riveting character, all steel and hard edge – unless he’s reading Benicio a bedtime story.

Written by Hossein Amini and adapted from “Drive” by James Sallis, Driver is a stark character that, in his single-minded cool, quiet exterior, is a challenging character to play. Gosling is perfect for the role – his long face, thin build, and closely set eyes telegraph determinism. He’s the Steve McQueen of DRIVE.

Unfortunately, Mulligan – who has a Hollywood career regardless of her looking like a displaced waif with an unnatural air of beatific calm – does not give Gosling much to work with. They have no chemistry.

Brooks and Perlman take their roles as bad guys very seriously. Running a pizza joint is not easy. Or stealing from the mob.

While Mulligan has a glazed over look throughout DRIVE, at least Christina Hendricks, as Blanche, adds a touch of bitterness and excitement. Not all women in DRIVE fell down from a cloud into a red waitress vest.

Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, the driving sequences are fantastic and the viciousness of the killings startling. Refn builds a strong, noir feel to DRIVE that gives it a stylish, gritty look. How unrealistic is the ending? Well, Irene keeps her job as a minimum wage waitress and Driver drives off only with his jacket.

* In Baz Luhrmann’s remake of THE GREAT GATSBY, Carey Mulligan will play the iconic female lead opposite Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby.

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