The strange thing about the engaging work by filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn (“Bronson” and the “Pusher” trilogy!) is that his movies always seem to relish having an distinctively uneven tone and it’s both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it’s a unique way of shaking up the traditions of the modern day motion picture, but on the other it’s a discombobulating device that almost ensures the work will never be five-star stuff – a cinematic conundrum indeed. Unfortunately the problem is even more glaring and severe in the case of Refn’s latest outing "Drive" due to the filmmaker abandoning his own writing that at least matched his kinetic style and instead working from a subpar script that feels both familiar and thrown together.
“Drive” stars Ryan Gosling as a quiet, unassuming, but seemingly tormented unnamed wheelman who’s a part-time getaway driver, part-time mechanic and part-time Hollywood stunt driver. The quiet and by-the-book auto jockey soon meets local single mom Cary Mulligan and her young son and surprisingly begins to find some peace. So much so that when Mulligan’s hubby newly released from prison comes home with a price on his head, the good-natured driver decides to use his skills to help – with some shocking results.
"Drive," while it may be based on a book, frankly owes its origins and a whole lot more to the 1978 Walter Hill classic "The Driver." From the stoic leading character (Ryan O’Neal in the best performance of his career!) to the use of a fetching female to twist the plot (Isabelle Adjani in full seductive mode!) and even killer car sequences (Hill was the master of this stuff!), Drive generously borrows every memorable high-octane aspect of that film. (And is it just me or are the green credits the same font as “To Live And Die In L.A.?!”) Add to that some of Michael Mann’s "Thief" in both character (with Drive’s Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks representing different sides of the original Robert Prosky character!) and brutality (the blood and guts in both films seemingly comes out of nowhere!) and throw in the all too familiar sweet and innocent love story and you’ve got one hell of a recycled script. (Screenwriter Hossein Amini should be ashamed to collect a paycheck on this one!)
Even if you ignore the familiarity and set aside that most elements here don’t match up to more accomplished counterparts, nothing in “Drive” lives up to its full potential. Gosling plays the lead role with little emotion and feeling like O’Neal did, but instead of pulling out his normal character we want to know more about, he’s a guy we mostly want to get away from. (It really feels like he's acting here!) The car sequences are decent enough, but are used so sparingly that they eventually become secondary to a lot of moody movie minutia. But the most tragic part of Drive is that the amazing cast assembled here play characters that aren’t fleshed out or even interesting. Brooks is a bad guy one-note wonder, Cranston the classic slimy father figure, Ron Perlman the typical heavy and "Firefly/Mad Men" gal Christina Hendricks is all but wasted in a throwaway role that’s totally beneath her.
Don't get me wrong, there is some notable Refn style bits within that make "Drive" watchable. His use of music montage, quiet reflection, fluid camera movements and especially not being afraid to let a moment lovingly linger longer then it should are ever-present reminders of what an incredible talent he truly is, but Refn is also a guy who needs fresh ideas that benefit from his interesting filmmaking prowess. In the end "Drive" is a film that’s already been made by others and visually put together by a director who likes to wonderfully keep his audience off balance – it’s a movie marriage that ultimately doesn’t work.
Genre: Action, Drama
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Cary Mulligan, Bryan Cranston
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Running Time: 95 minutes
Release Company: Film District