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DRIVE

 

Nicolas Winding Refn won "Best Director" at the most recent Cannes Film Festival for "Drive," and itís extremely obvious as to why. "Drive" is full of perfect moments where everything is harmonious - from the choice of music, to the camera framing, to the addictively mysterious performances by the powerhouses of Gosling and Brooks.

 

This is a movie authored by a filmmaker with such a precise vision that it all seems remarkably natural. It's automatic filmmaking at a creative speed we're rarely lucky enough to experience.

 

In "Drive," Ryan Gosling plays a mysterious young man with no history and no name (we'll call him ďDriver.") He's a Hollywood stunt man who also serves as getaway driver with certain rules: "If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything that happens in that five-minute window and I'm yours no matter what. I don't sit in while you're running it down; I don't carry a gun... I drive."

Driver also works in a car repair shop for Shannon (Bryan Cranston). Shannon is trying to create a future for Driver in stock car racing.

 

By chance, Driver befriends a young woman named Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son. Irene is married to Standard (Oscar Isaac), an ex-convict who owes money to ruthless mafiosos (played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman).

 

To protect Irene and her son, Driver signs on to be a getaway driver for Standardís last robbery job. When the job goes awry, Driver must do anything he can to defend Irene from a group of gangsters hoping to clean up their own mess.

 

The vulnerable thug is by no means an original character type, but Gosling plays it here like a champ. He makes the role feel fresh (and oh so cool) with his finite mannerisms that come from a very controlled and reduced performance. A clenched fist is his only indicator of anger, and it is usually accompanied by a sorrowful glance in his eyes.

Parts of the Driver character are robotic, like when he drives with unflinching focus. But his emotions are not Ė he often looks like he's going to cry because of his actions, but not even one tear escapes an eye. It's almost like his personal breakdown scene is missing. As such stoicism blankets his mysterious vulnerabilities, Gosling's performance never loses its total cool.

 

Mulligan provides solid support in this character who is basically at the center of "Drive's" danger. She makes her character likable enough so that we can look past her little screen time and possibly underdeveloped presence. We at least feel she's a woman worth fighting for, and that's usually enough for this type of story to function properly.

 

A bit of a surprise, Brooks makes for a killer villain in the menacing shoes of Bernie. His presence carries so much intimidation, even though his interactions can be so sociable and warming. Just like Gosling's Driver, he has unsuspecting brutal tendencies, of which Brooks' character is less able to control; heís an excellent adversary to the story's hero.

 

Ron Perlman crashes the "Drive" acting party with a tough gangster role that is a bit over-acted, especially when it sounds like he's getting too forceful with his F-bombs.

Oscar Isaac plays tragic scum pretty well, and Christina Hendricks pops in and out of the movie in the span of about ten crazy minutes. Itís as if Refn is using her to purposefully toy with the expectations of his audience Ė he makes her look a bit frumpy, and he only features her for a few (crazy) minutes.

 

The visual style of "Drive" is what makes this a special movie. Refn knows how to capture and cut a car chase, how to make every act of violence hit the audience, and how to make any moment beautiful. The long takes are exciting, and the depth-of-field shots are incredibly rich. Slow motion even has some shining moments, without feeling overwrought or cliche (an elevator beat down is especially brutally gorgeous).

 

One moment of "Drive" that is especially gripping is a car chase, which is preceded by a silent, ticking robbery that blasts off with surprising loud gun shots (which are excellently mixed). Instantly, Refn throws American audiences an artful, pulsating car chase that rescues car ballets from flashy "Fast and the Furious" movies. It's also one of the best car chases we've seen in a long time, next to "Death Proof."

 

"Drive" has some great moments of dialogue that are jarringly subtle. For example, when the Driver meets his new boss Bernie, he says "My hands are dirty." Bernie replies, "So are mine." The script sprinkles clever tidbits like this throughout, and makes any interaction between two people disturbingly calm (like when Bernie meets Cranston's character for the last time).

 

With only five non-original tracks, the "Drive" soundtrack might be one of the coolest collections of movie music we'll hear this year. Each track adds to a strong mood of the film, and also gives the whole movie a unique tone. The retro sounds of tunes like "A Real Hero" (by College ft. Electric Youth) and "Nightcall" (by Kavinsky & Nightfoxxx) supplement a stylish romantic element, while also stating the movie's attitude that it's fine doing what's been done before, as long as itís purely cool.

 

Nicolas Winding Refn doesn't have a license, and claims to know nothing about cars. But he's one hell of a mechanic with "Drive," a movie created from recycled chop shop parts that could have turned out ugly if it weren't in the hands of such a visual mastermind. Even Gosling, the true driver of this movie's spirit, is able to make a familiar character-type feel new and positively exciting.

 

"Drive" is perfect evidence that while there may be no new original concepts in Hollywood, excellent filmmaking doesn't have to suffer. It's slick, it's ultra cool, and it fucking roars from start to finish.   -- NICK ALLEN, is also a film critic for The Scorecard Review and member of Chicago Film Critics Association

 

NICK ALLEN

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