“Out of the Blue”
Published on September 16th, 2011 | by Carlos J. Segura1
“Drive” opens September 16 at a theater near you.
Running Time: 100 Minutes. Rated: R for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity.
During Nicolas Winding Refn’s (“Pusher,” “Valhalla Rising”) Cannes winner for Best Direction, “Drive,” Bryan Cranston’s mentor/father figure, Shannon, recounts how the Driver (Ryan Gosling) came into his life. As he puts it one day the Driver showed up at his car shop, “out of the blue,” to ask for a job. Several years later the Driver and Shannon still work together, with Shannon acting as the Driver’s agent, hiring him out to Hollywood productions as a professional stuntman, as well as to folks who require the speed, skill and extraordinary nerve of the Driver who seems to be thoroughly unafraid of a potential run-in with the law versus getting paid to help criminals with their heists. One rule: the criminals have only 5 minutes to get to the car once their time with him begins and if they miss that window of time he leaves them. No exceptions.
Gosling plays the part of the Driver so minimally that we’re left with only our projections and his actions to speak for him, plus how Refn decides we are to literally see him. As his origins were explained it brought to mind the eponymous character of the anime, “Vampire Hunter D,” (if only because it’s my earliest memory of a strong, mysterious and silent survivalist) but a more recognizable point of reference would be Clint Eastwood in something like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Overall think that by way of the beauty and understated vulnerability of Montgomery Clift. The Driver’s flat demeanor, his professions, which are professions that involve dealing with excess adrenaline, potential incarceration and manual labor, lead us to believe that perhaps this is someone who came up in this world the hard way and has seen it all and has nothing to lose.
That is until he meets Carey Mulligan’s working mother, Irene, and her son, Benicio. The attraction between the Driver and Irene is covered without fanfare, yet, when they look hard and hesitatingly into each other’s eyes we know we have seen love at first sight, even if it’s never declared and it’s only fully expressed much later into the movie with what must be the slowest of slo-mo kisses that I’ve ever seen. However, the movie, though at times dressed up with aggressive car chases and violent bloodshed, is based on the Driver committing such acts in the name of true love. So in love is he with Irene that when Irene’s husband, Standard, gets out of prison early for good behavior, the Driver backs away in order to honor Irene’s marriage and family. But one day the Driver catches Standard, beaten and bloody, and discovers he got himself indebted to the wrong people while in jail and unless he pays the debt they will make him pay by going after Irene and Benicio. With that the Driver agrees to help Standard with a heist that ends in Standard getting killed and from there the movie turns into the Driver protecting himself, and Irene, from the people that killed Standard and now want him dead.
Refn’s film boils down to three speeds, technically speaking: hyperkinetic and swift editing/camera movement; grandiose and hyper-vigilant coverage; finally, there’s Albert Brooks. Brooks’ performance and casting is surprising because it’s the nebbish man gone evil and it’s the only performance that doesn’t ask a dial down of the actor. On paper it sounds bad but it’s more than likely going to be an awards season contender. Gosling and Mulligan, while memorable and alluring, don’t really have parts to play. They’ve been cast because of the natural qualities their presences suggest to audiences, almost like silent film actors. Above all it’s Refn’s show here and especially during the first half he makes euphoric audio/visual choices. The opening car chase is a hand-clencher; the 80s vibe in the soundtrack is pure bliss; the falling-in-love period between Gosling and Mulligan is delightful suspense. The second half, while still more than satisfactory by regular standards, did not live up to the hype and hope of greatness I let build in my imagination. It becomes somewhat monotonous once Gosling’s character is merely filling buckets with blood, despite it coming from a romantic place. The posters, with their suggestive, pretty shots covered in pink, lipstick-scrawled font, the talent roster, the flawless first half, plus the awarding of the prize at Cannes led to reasonably outlandish expectations on my part. Judged on those terms it’s somewhat uneven and a little more than fairly satisfactory. Judged cold it’s one of the better films of the year and it definitely has got the sweetest soundtrack of the year, hands down. Like the dichotomy in its hero, who feels like a regular Joe and a superhero all at once, “Drive” is primitive, fast, direct, old-fashioned, magnificent, heartfelt and then impervious, sleek, glossy, and modern.