Sunday, October 2, 2011

DRIVE (2011)

Written by Hossein Amini

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas,  Hollywood, CA. September 18, 2011  8:30PM

It doesn't seem like the year 2011 is going to be remembered for too much, as far as cinema is concerned but one thing I can say, with certainly, is that it will be the time where Ryan Gosling finally became recognized as a major film star.

He is far from a newcomer, having started as a child singing and dancing on the television show, "The New Mickey Mouse Club" but he first got noticed as an actor for playing a young Jewish kid who becomes a Neo-Nazi in the 2001 film, "The Believer". Not only did Mr. Gosling follow that with several other impressive performances in independent films including his devastating turn as a drug-addicted high school teacher in "Half-Nelson" which earned him his first Academy Award nomination in 2007 but he was open to doing mainstream fare with him causing many hearts to flutter from his work in the film version of the bestseller, "The Notebook".

This year, Mr. Gosling will have appeared in three distinctly different films and in each one, he leaves an impression that has caused many to begin to see his full potential as a great screen presence. He first showed up this summer in his first Hollywood romantic-comedy, "Crazy Stupid Love" as he holds his own against comic veteran, Steve Carrell as well Emma Stone and he will next be seen, later this fall, as the lead in George Clooney's political drama, "The Ides of March" but right now he appears in "Drive".

This dazzling film, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn who was wisely handpicked by the actor, is the perfect vehicle to showcase his brooding intensity, captivating charm, deep intelligence and effortless sex appeal.

Set in the east side of Los Angeles, Gosling plays an unnamed young man only referred to as "Driver". The moniker is appropriate as he not only does auto stunt work for films but he is the getaway driver for thieves after committing a robbery as he is able to skillfully outmaneuver the police on their tail. He also works as a car mechanic for Shannon (Bryan Cranston), a crusty schemer, constantly in search for his one big break, who arranges and manages all of the Driver's various jobs.

Shannon approaches the local mobster, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), who he has done previous work for, to financially back him with his plan to buy a race car with the Driver attached to be behind the wheel. Rose agrees and things seem to be looking up for Shannon and his young protegee.

The Driver doesn't say much, perhaps he is shy but most likely, it's because he will speak when he has something of importance to say. He does want to speak to the neighbor in his apartment building; Irene (Carey Mulligan) a sweet-faced woman who works as waitress to support her young son while his father is doing time in prison.

Circumstances bring the two closer together but any possible romance is interrupted by the arrival of Irene's husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac) fresh out of jail. Aware that something might be happening between his wife and their neighbor, he promises Irene that he has changed his ways but the Driver later discovers Standard, beaten and bloodied, in the parking garage. It turns out that Standard owes protection money for his time behind bars and if he doesn't repay it by stealing the cash of a pawn shop, they will harm Irene and their son.

Out of concern for Irene, the Driver agrees to help Standard but only by driving the getaway car during the heist. As we have come to expect from this kind of film, things don't go according to plan, as dead bodies pile up and a mob rivalry which causes Bernie Rose to wind up getting indirectly involved in this mess that ultimately leads to even more trouble for the Driver.

Mr. Refn, a Danish film director who deservedly won the Best Director Award at this year's Cannes Film Festival for this film, has taken elements of classic American film noir, reinterprets it and infuses the film with a European sensibility to create something that feels familiar and yet refreshingly like nothing that has been seen before. With a very low budget, the director was still able to make a visually stunning and vibrant film, thanks to the powerful work of cinematographer, Newton Thomas Sigel.

The dialogue is spare which adds to the tension as you know that something is going to happen but the characters never tip you off as to exactly what.or how much blood is going to be spilled. The soundtrack, created by former Red Hot Chilli Pepper drummer, Cliff Martinez, features prominently, throbbing synthesizers that really hasn't been used much in cinema since the 1980's but helps bring a perfectly cold, eerie chill to these proceedings and all together makes "Drive" a riveting, highly stylized thrill-ride that never feels pretentious.

The cast is solid including Ron Perlman as Bernie Rose's not to bright but equally psychotic partner and "Mad Men" 's Christina Hendricks in a brief appearance as a moll. Ms Mulligan delivers yet another terrific performance in a small but vital role but the true revelation here is Albert Brooks. Best known for comedic roles such as his Oscar-nominated turn in 1987's, "Broadcast News" as well as writing and directing such comedy classics as "Defending Your Life" (1991) and  "Mother" (1996), Mr. Brooks brings a calm, jovial menace to the part that is makes his character truly frightening. It really shouldn't be so surprising as many other comedians in the past have successfully taken on dark, dramatic roles to great effect and Mr. Brooks can be added to that list as he is brilliant here.

Breathtaking action sequences, subtle, colorful performances, surprising twists and turns with bursts of brutal, bloody violence, "Drive" is a bold and tense thriller but will probably still have some difficulty finding a large segment of the audience to understand the film at this moment. The problem is that it's far from the typical type of action film that U.S. film-goers are used to seeing with the unconventional pacing and being left to fill in the blanks themselves but I am positive that over time, it will find a greater appreciation. People will discover this little gem later and will highly recommend their friends to see this extraordinary but unusual film.