“Drive” is a point blank shotgun blast to your dome. This is not a metaphor. About a half hour into “Drive”, the audience (and myself) started questioning what exactly Director Nicolas Winding Refn was attempting to accomplish by putting all this pesky exposition in an action movie. Then second act of the movie kicks in with a literal point-blank shotgun blast to the dome, and does not let up. It's jarring how unexpectedly graphically violent this film is. The blood and violence arrives quickly and doesn't stop flowing until the credits. Once Ryan Gosling's character is in the sh*t, he's in up to his neck.
Gosling is an unnamed protagonist who by day is a stunt driver, and by night drives criminals around for cash. His best friend, Shannon, (Bryan Cranston) has dreams of entering Gosling into a classic stock car race, and only needs funding from some mafioso types, played by Albert Brooks and Ron Pearlman, who happily oblige for a cut and unfaltering loyalty.
Meanwhile Gosling becomes (platonically) involved with his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her child. Oh, Irene's husband is in prison and getting out soon. I know that seems like a chance to set up a cliched fight between Gosling and her Irene's husband, but in fact the entire movie's plot unfolds simply because Gosling wanted the couple to be happy together again.
At one point Albert Brooks gives Gosling the low down on how the whole mob thing works. He smiles and explains how he “used to produce movies in the 80s”, and that, one of the best he made was even called “European” by a movie critic. This character nuance bordering on an inside joke was about when I realized this movie was a bit more about the people in it, then what happens to them.
Another examples lies in Cranston's Shannon. He's the kind of guy always onto the next big thing, inevitably screwed out of his big chance by the people he knows, his own demons, or just bad luck. You've met him. The charming, kind of loveable skeeze that has friends in dangerously low places. Cranston does a great job serving as our window into Gosling's largely silent character, while also having his own needs and wants and goals.
Ron Pearlman is a typical tough guy, but brings a bit of a “goy”ishness to his performance to completely remove himself from his other tough guy role on FX's Sons of Anarchy.
I know what you're thinking. Gosh, that sure is a lot of writing about character, and plot, for a movie about cars and explosions right? The thing is that “Drive” has been marketed as a slam bam action picture, which it's not. There aren't a lot of explosions, and while the movie does become exciting in the second and third acts, it's because we care about the people involved in the story, not because we're waiting for the next giant punching CGI Robot.
To make an example four people on the planet will understand, The “Fast and Furious” movies are sort of like “Kick Ass”. High octane, adventurous, over the top, and delivering on it's promise to be shallow popcorn fun. “Drive”, is sort of like the IFC flick “Super”. Like “Super” “Drive” is slower paced and methodical. It's a character piece makes you feel for characters in the movie, good and bad.
The tragedy of the film is that the events unfold in such a way that no one wants to commit the heinous acts they're forced to do. Since everyone in the movie's hand is forced, the tension mounts because none of these people want to be doing any of this nasty violent stuff to each other. I didn't want anyone to die in this movie, and I don't think I'm giving a lot of way when I say practically everyone does, and it's heart breaking.
The movie is essentially a stylish neo-noir. It tells a great story that is supplemented with good action and terrifying violence. As summer ends and we look back on the movies made that bazillions and bazillions of dollars, most of which were seen and ultimately enjoyed by me, I'm trying to think back to plots or details from movies like “Capatain America” or “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”. I close my eyes and get a snap shot of a movie poster. When I close my eyes and think about “Drive”. I scare myself with how much I happily remember.