4 out of 5 stars
Reinventing the action film is no easy task, particularly for a movie with as little fuss and fanfare as Drive. Ryan Gosling, a car, a girl, some punching, it didn’t exactly seem like it was aiming to do much except increase Gosling’s street cred and move him from The Notebook to a theoretical action star.
But somehow out of nowhere Drive isn’t just a good film, it’s one of the best of the year so far. It’s a completely unexpected surprise, in both its quality, but also its content. This is welcome for someone tired of the mindless shaky cam nonsense that usually passes for an action film in Hollywood, but for the crowd that usually shells out big bucks for that sort of feature, Drive may be a disappointment.
The initial scene is an apt summary of the type of film that’s to follow. Gosling’s forever unnamed driver is working his night job as a getaway man. After two crooks rob a bank, he starts to make a getaway. A normal action film would have him squealing his tires right off the bat while the robbers shoot automatic weapons out the windows. But not so in Drive. Here Gosling creeps along through the dark streets, avoiding cops quietly, only in brief, rare moments resorting to full-on dodging, weaving and powersliding.
It’s representative of the type of film that’s to follow. More often than not, Drive is slow. Painfully slow in fact, so much so that on occasion it elicits groans from the audience as conversations appear to unfold in slow motion with long dramatic pauses between every other word. For a film that promises action, it stretches for what feels like eons before anything actually exciting happens.
Somebody say something already!
All of a sudden however, these moments hit. And boy, do they hit hard. The quiet film is interjected with bursts of extreme and brutal violence the likes of which I haven’t seen onscreen in quite some time. There’s a brutal realism to it that is jarring, and especially more so because of the languishing pace of the rest of the movie.
The film’s commitment to the slow burn is admirable, and though it can seem excessive, it pays off in spades during these incredibly intense moments. They may only populate a fraction of the film, but the payoff is far greater than if the same scenes were interspersed with a film full of constant car crashes and gunfights.
In this sense, Drive is unlike nearly any action movie I’ve seen. It fully commits to its characters rather than its set pieces, and focuses on painting a clear picture of the mysterious Driver as he selflessly aids a woman, her son and even her husband, despite his obvious fondness for his wife. Similar time is spent crafting characters like Bryan Cranston’s pathetic but kindly shop owner Shannon and Albert Brooks’s friendly but brutal mobster Bernie.
The movie does well to give roles to talented TV stars both with Breaking Bad’s Cranston and Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks.
The score of the film gives it a decidedly ‘80s feel, as does the Risky Business title font, but the rest of it feels modern. Like the art house has forced an action movie to evolve into something greater.
It may take a while to sink it that Drive is a brilliant film. The previews and concept paint it as a balls out action flick, and when that doesn’t come to pass, many in the audience will be disappointed. After the great initial chase, the film lays on the brakes for about an hour, and by the time it picks up again, might lose a good portion of the audience’s interest.
It might not be what you’re expecting, but if you can manage the slow pace you’ll find an exceptionally worthwhile and well-made film. In this modern era of overstimulation, especially in the action, it’s refreshing to see a film in this genre take its time and not have to rely on CGI or a constant parade of explosions.
Drive may take a while to get where it’s going, but after it does, you’ll be glad you stuck around for the journey.
4 out of 5 stars