Friday, September 16, 2011


"Drive" is a bearable but nonetheless disappointing effort from one of the most overrated filmmakers out there: Nicolas Winding Refn, who's made downright lamentable works in the past, including "Bronson" and "Valhalla Rising." Faith in this guy is ridiculously assured. He again and again takes potentially interesting ideas and runs them into the ground, and yet he continues to get validation, now even in the form of a Best Director prize from Cannes for his latest.

Due to all the magic-sounding hype, I was expecting something that would make my jaw drop. I wanted to see something distinct. I wanted to be awed. And I thought that finally, finally, with the right actors and the right story, Refn could pull something like that off. But when the supposedly esteemed first scene rolled by looking and sounding like something straight out of Need For Speed, I knew that things weren't going to run smoothly. In fact, this letdown cast a shadow over the rest of the film for me, and so I was never able to really appreciate anything other than the solid production design and the supporting work of Carey Mulligan and Kaden Leos as a mother and son.

Ryan Gosling alternates between smiling diffidently and growling aggressive warnings as the Driver (a.k.a. the Kid), whose life basically revolves around cars. He's a mechanic, a stuntman, and a getaway man, and even when he's not working, he's driving through LA. Though he affects a bravado, complete with toothpick and scorpion jacket, we see him as a barren soul, sleep-deprived, anonymous, using the drive as an out-of-body experience. We as the audience pick this up, but Refn could've done better by playing up these elements a little more (which is not entirely achieved by showing Gosling driving in close-ups over and over again, which he does).

The Driver runs into Irene (Mulligan) in his apartment building, and, as they find themselves meeting often, the two grow drawn to each other, even though she has a kid (Leos) and a husband, known as Standard (Oscar Isaac), who is on his way out of prison. This section is more human than anything I've seen by Refn up to this point. But it is not to last, as the Driver gets himself inextricably involved in jobs and deals set up by Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his pizzeria-owner partner Nino (Ron Perlman).

And, at a certain point, with the brief use of a character, Blanche (Christina Hendricks), the film crosses a line. On the other side, it breaks with respectability and descends into increasingly cartoonish violence. By the time Brooks stabs a guy in the eye with a fork and then jams a knife into his throat, the initial shock of the savagery has worn off, and what we're left with is sad excess. This is ultimately what has been undermining Refn's works, and it will continue to do so unless the man can get a hold of himself. With "Drive," he's out of touch, though a bit less so than before. C


Steph said...

I've read 2 reviews of this movie this morning: yours and a glowing review. I'm curious about what my opinion of this movie would be.:-) I always enjoy your sharp wit as well as your excellent reviewing skills. This made me laugh out loud: "when the supposedly esteemed first scene rolled by looking and sounding like something straight out of Need For Speed, I knew that things weren't going to run smoothly." Definitely not an auspicious beginning!

Nick Duval said...

Thanks for the kind words!

David said...

I'm glad I read this review, because I was starting to think that I was the only one who didn't completely fall in love with this film. Besides the elevator scene and the killing of Ron Perlman set to "Oh My Love," nothing truly wowed me about the film. The opening was well shot but nothing too out of the ordinary, the pacing of the film couldn't decide if it was hollywood or art house, Ryan Gosing gave a surprisingly mediocre performance as The Driver. Drive was a massive disappointment for me. After hearing of Refn's win over Malick at Cannes for director, I became excited for the film. In return, it gave me near nothing else than disappointment.

Stephanie said...

I finally saw the movie, and I really liked it. Since I paid for the movie rental, I'm very glad my opinion different from yours. ;-)

I think watching a film is a very individual experience; there's a certain chemistry between a movie and viewer. I think this is especially true of a movie like this, when much is unsaid and left to the imagination. We insert even more of our own feelings and experiences.

Once again, I enjoyed your excellent review.