We review Drive – Quietly potent and a Best of 2011

4 min read
5

Indie crime drama Drive arrived in South Africa on a surge of online and critical hype. That is always dangerous for a film in that audience expectations can be elevated so high that they become impossible to satisfy. Fortunately, Drive is pretty damn great… as long as you go into it knowing that the film isn’t a conventional thriller. Like this year’s Hanna, Drive is an unusual hybrid of art house and mainstream action cinema. Drive, however, is by far the more accessible film of the two, and emerges as one of the best cinema releases of 2011.

Now the plot for Drive is far from unique. The film centres on an unnamed man (Ryan Gosling) known simply as the Driver, who leads a car-centric life in Los Angeles: by day he works as a mechanic and stunt driver; by night he’s a heist driver for hire. The Driver is drawn to his neighbour, sweet young mother Irene (Carey Mulligan), but no sooner does he start slotting into her life than her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns from prison. Standard has made mistakes but he’s a good guy and the Driver agrees to be his getaway driver for a robbery that will clear Standard’s prison protection debts – and, more importantly, remove the threat of revenge violence from his family. Cue inevitable bloody complications….http://goo.gl/lEShiw

Drive certainly isn’t a film for everyone. It’s quiet, slow paced and character driven. This said, the film’s patches of silence and moderated pacing never feels forced, and actually work in the movie’s favour by heightening the impact of the action scenes when they do arrive. Much like the scorpion on the Driver’s silk jacket, the violence in Drive comes out of nowhere to strike fast and hard. The same goes for the film’s handful of car chases. The Fast and the Furious fans may complain about the lack of explosions and gravity-defying vehicular stunts, but personally I found these sequences to be powerfully tense and well choreographed. As well as realistic.

I’ve heard friends compare Drive to The Godfather, and there’s definitely a strong retro feel to the film, visually and in terms of the overall movie-making approach. Dark, moody and intimately focused on a small cast of characters, Drive feels like a throwback to the style-conscious crime noir movies of the 1970s or early 1980s.http://goo.gl/vjbSVJ

At the same time, one of the most enjoyable things about Drive is its strong prioritising of emotion. These days it seems like most crime actioners have adopted the Pulp Fiction approach to depicting gangsterism – either it’s about appearing cool and slick, with an indifference to the violent acts committed, or characters revel in the brutality. In Drive, the lead characters have long-standing relationships and loyalties. They may do horrible things, often to each other, but they don’t enjoy it at all. Even the Driver is not aloof. He has friends; he keeps his promises… and he smiles. There is a lot of warmth – and, on one notable occasion, fiery passion – beneath Drive’s chilled surface.

A lot of this emotional impact has to do with performances. All of the actors in Drive are perfectly cast. Gosling remains at all times likeable – and sexy in a “subdued protector” way – while never playing down his character’s capacity for explosive violence. Meanwhile, especial standouts among the supporting players are Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, acting against type as low level West Coast crime bosses – the former resentfully and sadly dishing out punishment for failure and the latter harbouring a major inferiority complex.http://goo.gl/c9kUsc

Drive starts to lose its momentum a bit towards the end as revenge killings stack up. However, this stumble can be forgiven given the impact of the film as a complete package. Drive is powerfully moving, pretty sad but still a gratifying tale about shattered dreams and poor luck. It’s also one of the year’s best films.

Last Updated: January 3, 2012

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