Monday, June 3, 2013

Movie Monday #20: Drive

"I don't sit in while you're running it down. I don't carry a gun. I drive."
--Ryan Gosling as Driver, Drive 

When I first saw Drive, it was on my computer screen as a glitchy screener rip that someone posted on BT Junkie.  I'm not proud that I downloaded the movie first, but when all of the rental stores have closed in your town, downloading becomes your renting.  My impression from that first viewing was that the film was a masterpiece, so much so that after it was done, I watched it all over again (something I rarely do).  The 80's-influenced electro-pop soundtrack, the superb acting, and the subtleties in the script made this one of my top ten favorite films of all time.

Recently I finally acquired a Blu-Ray player and a HD-TV and needed a cool movie to test them out on.  I headed down to my local Dollar General and found a DVD copy of Drive for eight bucks.  Knowing that my Blu-Ray would up-convert the anamorphic widescreen print to 1080p, I popped it into the player and sat back with a Sprite and a McChicken to experience this masterpiece again, the way I should have seen it the first time.

Ryan Gosling plays a nameless Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a wheelman for crooks.  He also works at a car garage run by Shannon (Bryan Cranston), an overly-friendly guy who has taken "Driver" under his wing and affectionately calls him "kid."  Driver lives in the same apartment building as Irene (Carey Mulligan), a waitress whose Latino husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is serving time.  Driver makes quick friends with Irene's son, Benicio, and soon a romance blossoms between Driver and Irene, only to be thwarted by Standard's release from prison.

One night while returning from a drive, Driver spots two rough-looking characters in the parking lot of his building.  Exploring a little, he finds Standard beaten to a pulp and Benicio cowering in fear.  According to Standard, he's behind on protection money he paid some toughs while he was in prison, and every time they come asking, the amount doubles.  They also want him to rob a pawn shop that reportedly has the money that will pay off his debt.  Driver agrees to be Standard's wheelman...but when the heist goes to hell, Driver's life--and everyone else's--falls into jeopardy.

The first thing you'll notice about Drive is its electro-pop soundtrack.  Featuring the likes of Kavinsky, Desire, College, and a mesmerizing number by The Chromatics called "Tick of the Clock," the music just drips coolness.  Add to this the astounding visuals of Los Angeles and Driver cruising the streets at night, and you've got yourself a winning combination.  The musical score by Cliff Martinez (who I've loved since Steven Soderbergh's "Solaris") is an astounding electronic mixture that captures all the moods, emotions, and tragedies of the film perfectly and compliments the electro-pop numbers on an even level.

The second thing you'll notice is Ryan Gosling as "Driver."  This was the first time I'd ever seen him in a film, and I was supremely impressed.  He doesn't say very much, but each line is delivered with the appropriate inflection and meaning, like he was born to play this role.  Sometimes he doesn't say anything at all, and a twist of the head or a shift of the weight sufficed (watch his conversation with Standard in the bathroom for evidence of this), and even that carried the necessary gravity to get the point across.  And even when Gosling had to show Driver's anger, it was also measured and proportioned, like he was holding it all back in case he needed it again.  This is one of the best performances I've seen in modern film, and I can't recommend it enough.

Carey Mulligan plays Irene, Standard's wife and Driver's love interest.  This was the first time I'd ever seen her in a film, and I instantly fell in love with her.  She looks so sweet and innocent, but plays Irene as a woman who's struggling between her duty to her husband and her feelings for Driver.  Bryan Cranston totally owns the role of Shannon, and evokes such sympathy for the character when his plans go down the tubes.  Oscar Isaac fleshes out the role of Standard and even makes you feel sorry for the guy, who gets caught up in circumstances beyond his control.  Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, and Albert Brooks round out the cast, but it should be noted here that Albert Brooks turns in one chilling performance as the lead villain, Bernie Rose, proving once again that he can play anybody.

The script by Hossein Amini was refined by director Nicolas Winding Refn after the project was purchased from Universal, where it had sat in development hell for six years.  Both Amini and Refn create something unique--a movie that starts out still and quiet and slowly spirals into chaos.  It's very reminiscent of the 80's crime thrillers Thief and To Live and Die in L.A., which are two of my favorite 80's movies and some of the best crime thrillers I've ever seen.  Director Refn worked with Newton Thomas Sigel as his director of photography, and Sigel captures all of Los Angeles, both day and night, in such beautiful and subtle ways that even florescent lighting in a parking lot looks alluring and vivid.  Add to this the unique production design by Beth Mickle, the superb editing by Mat Newman, and the awesome costume designs by Erin Benach (including Driver's white-and-gold scorpion jacket), and you have yourself a masterpiece.  

Drive was the sleeper hit of 2011, but for me, it's the perfect film.  It has everything I love about movies--drama, romance, cars, crime, and a great soundtrack.  If you love those same elements, then you're going to love "Drive" as well...and don't be surprised if you find yourself cruising around the streets of your town at night, windows down, blasting some electro-pop of your own. 

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