The Movie Drive Never Gets Out of Park

Didn't I see these reflections in Taxi Driver?

DRIVE (2011)

Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn

FilmDistrict, 100 mins. R (language and brief nudity)


One of the annual rites of spring is moaning over films and performances that should have been nominated for Oscars but weren’t. Both Drive and its star, Ryan Gosling, show up on a lot of such lists. But this time the Academy got it right; neither deserved a nod. I have no idea what critics gushing over this film saw, as it's a one-trick blood-spurting pony that wastes several good actors.

I like Gosling as an actor and think he deserved Oscar consideration for Blue Valentine last year, but it’s hard to get excited about his acting chops in Drive if, for no other reason, he only has about a dozen words of dialogue. This movie is a lame rip-off of Taxi Driver (1976) in that each film features a silent lead who spends a lot of time cruising the mean urban streets, each wishes to be virtuous, but each is driven to acts of unspeakable violence when they must save an imperiled young woman who deserves better than life has dealt her. Drive spends a lot of time with Gosling behind the wheel and many of the shots look gorgeous, but that’s because the glaring headlights, the reflected neon on wet streets, and bouncing light through the windshield are also lifted from Taxi Driver. Shall we say that when it comes to direction, Nicholas Winding Refn is no Martin Scorsese?

The plot, such as there is one, revolves around Gosling, known simply as “Driver.” He can do anything behind the wheel, but not much else, hence he’s a low-paid Hollywood stuntman who supplements his income by being a mechanic and a wheelman in heists. He’s also a man of few words whose only close associate is Shannon, the guy who runs a garage at which he works, though even Shannon hardly knows Driver. Gosling will, however, do a good deed for Irene (Carey Mulligan), a mom trying to raise her small son Benicio, whose father, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is in jail. Driver begins to fall for Irene and Benicio, the latter presumably because he, like Driver, has only recently graduated from having been pre-verbal. Driver tries to step away when Standard gets out of the joint, but is drawn into a scheme to help him pull off a robbery to get clear of debt he owes to some mob figures. Driver agrees to be the wheelman so that Standard, Irene, and Benicio can have a shot at domestic bliss. It all goes very wrong due to a double-cross involving an attempt by one West Coast crime boss (Ron Perlman) to bilk another (Albert Brooks) and steal a million dollars from an East Coast syndicate. Driver is forced to turn avenger in order to save Irene and Benicio.

There’s not much in Hossein Amini’s script that explains why Driver cares, and Mulligan, another actor whom I normally like, doesn’t do much to spark chemistry except to look doe-eyed and vulnerable. That’s not her fault; she only has marginally more dialogue than Gosling. We’re supposed to find everyone mysterious, but because none of the characters have depth, they exist only as foils for the sort of ultra violence one associates with films such as Straw Dogs, Reservoir Dogs, and A Clockwork Orange. The most creative moments in Drive involve Gosling’s methods of offing bad guys in graphic ways–not much on which to hang a plot unless you enjoy a glorified splatter film. Gosling’s performance in Drive is reminiscent of the sort of schlocky roles that Nicholas Cage takes these days. He’s buff, he’s bad, and he’s covered in blood…. Drive is a gruesome film that never gets out of park.

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