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Drive (2011)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

The trailers for Drive promise an action flick full of intensity and fast driving. There is indeed plenty of intensity and also some very good driving. There are some very bad bad guys, and great peril of life and limb. If that’s all one wants in a film, this is a good film for it. Yet Drive’s great strength is that, if you enter in with compassion for the characters instead of standing over the film as cynical film critic, it simultaneously delivers on a quite different emotional level. Ryan Gosling calls it his “superhero” movie. That may overstate it a bit, but I do think he’s on to something. Be warned though: The film is graphically violent and most definitely not for everyone.

This driver makes it clear: He drives. That’s all he does. You have to do the crime; he’s just the driver. He’s a loner, and by day, a Hollywood stunt car driver. He moves into an apartment. Next door he befriends Irene and her small son Benicio. Soon after, Irene’s husband, Standard, gets out of prison — he wants to go straight, but trouble comes after him. When Standard’s trouble threatens Irene and Benicio, the driver offers to help by doing what he does best: Drive. Running time: 100 min.

The film’s driver is an intense, tough-as-nails character and a man of few words. He sells his driving services to criminals, which is of course not particularly admirable. We don’t know why his character is hardened, but it seems clear he’s been through hard times. We can dismiss him as a mere criminal, assuming anything good that comes out is only calculated manipulation, or we can hope. We can engage with this character and hope there’s more than what we see at first. Whether or not we offer charity to the driver, I submit, determines how we read the film, whether it’s worth the time, and whether it has any last influence on us.

If we see him as a mere criminal, the film becomes about manipulation and the consequences of crime. Seeing him with compassion, the film becomes about awakening, redemption, and not backing down from a fight you didn’t choose. It becomes a strong exploration of honor and courage, even in the midst of crimes done. It asks whether, when unexpectedly threatened by darkness, we scream hysterically or have the steely nerves and shrewd skill to act, quickly and forcefully if necessary, to counter the darkness. It asks what we choose as most dear in life, and it asks whether, when fighting evil, we are governed by rage or restraint.

Drive’s filmcraft is excellent, particularly in its varied pacing. The film hangs on expressions and silences to great effect — even in the midst of car chase sequences. Ryan Gosling superbly captures the driver’s infused combination of steeliness and tenderness. I got the sense that, on first watching, I probably caught only a small number of the dialog’s double entendres, but what I did catch went beyond winks and nods to take the story deeper.

The film is worth seeing — I’d see it again in a heartbeat — but only if you can deal with the graphic violence. Although not pervasive throughout the film, when it comes, it is very strong. Was the graphicness gratuitous? Probably so at times, yet I could make an argument that certain of the graphic sequences explore what drives extreme violence, and that this exploration would be weaker without Drive’s level of graphicness.

Drive has strong graphic violence — most definitely strong enough to limit its appropriate audience. Frequent strong language. One sequence with several topless women.

  • Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
  • Screenplay: Hossein Amini, based on book by James Sallis
  • Leads: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Ron Perlman
  • Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel
  • Music: Cliff Martinez

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