The Gist: A stuntman driver and mechanic moonlights as a getaway driver for fellow criminals, but his life spirals out of control after befriending his neighbor whose husband is soon released from prison.
First Impressions: Originally marketed as a potential “Fast and Furious” type of film, mixed reviews both hailed Drive as a remarkable work while panning it as slow-paced. The cast is experienced and the trailer hints at a plot threaded with action, even if not always fast-paced.
The healthy balance of action and purposeful detail within the first scene sets a high note that never quite gets repeated throughout the remainder of Drive. Viewer interest is gained with the plot’s potential, though held loosely and dropped at points along the way.
The nameless protagonist known only as Driver (Ryan Gosling) shows off his driving skills and methodical planning when he hires himself out to criminals as a quick getaway, though notably his participation ends there. His talents are also used in driving stunts for Hollywood films where friend and fellow mechanic, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), recommends him as a racecar driver to the seedy Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks). Meanwhile, Driver strikes up a friendship with his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos). When Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Issacs), is released from jail though not from a criminal debt, he asks Driver for help so that his past will not affect his family, pulling Driver further into the criminal world from which he previously kept a certain distance.
Very little information is given about any of the characters’ backgrounds, which serves in making them absolute in the present. Yet this also does not give much reasoning for their actions and decisions, leaving the viewer little to take in other than their interactions with each other and certain details provided by director Nicolas Winding Refn. Unfortunately, this is where some entertainment is lost as Gosling and Mulligan may have gotten more out of their lengthy stare sessions than the viewer. The pace drags unnecessarily in some scenes and the overarching story remains just out of sight and unremarkable in the end.
This does not mean the details go unappreciated. The scorpion on Driver’s jacket (a sun symbol in astrology) paired with the use of sunlight and shadow within the frame, and a subtle but pulse racing musical beat all display the protagonist’s true nature underneath his calm exterior. Even the lyrics to Riz Ortolani’s ‘Oh My Love’ suggest “the sun now embraces nature” when Driver calmly embraces his violent nature during a climactic scene.
Again, interactions between the characters also revealed much. After meeting Standard, Driver bumps into a former criminal client, whose attempts at friendly small talk are greeted by Driver’s first hint of angry emotion. The similar, intentional souls of Driver and Bernie are revealed in an exchange about dirty hands. Even humor is used at Driver’s police costume on set, and the suggestion of the high-heel wearing, eye-rolling, cigarette smoking Blanche (Christina Hendricks) as a partner-in-crime for Standard.
It is unfortunate that the intentional details do not, by themselves, hold enough weight in the overall viewing experience. The more violent scenes, albeit serving some purpose, come across as more gratuitous in order to keep a minimal interest in the film.
One Positive Critique: It’s always nice to see an actor go out of their comfort zone as the typical nice guy (or worrying clownfish) Albert Brooks morphs into a commanding and cursing, though unassuming, villain. If only his character could have been incorporated more into the script, there’s no doubt that Brooks would have taken the cake.
See Bryan Cranston as Powell in Disney’s John Carter, playing at some of the Best Baltimore theaters such as the AMC in White Marsh and Landmark Harbor East.