Wednesday, September 14, 2011

You Got Five Minutes

Tonight I saw an early screening of the new Ryan Gosling movie Drive.  I have to say that I'm feeling a bit scandalous right now writing this review.  At the screening, they took everyone's cell phones away.  Usually at these things they tell you to turn your cell phones off and kick you out if they catch you using it  during the movie.  I don't plan on divulging a lot about the movie, but I hope I don't see any of those people who held my phone hostage in the street.

I can sum up Drive with one word--slick.  [Heavy emphasis on the "s".]  And that one-word summation could be a good or a bad thing.  In this case, it's a good thing.  But let me tell you about some things that annoyed me right away, even though I very much liked the film.  The font for the title sequence was in hot pink and looked like it came from the '80s.  The music also had an '80s feel, which at times fit the movie perfectly and at times was just  grating.  In truth, the combination of the titles and music reminded me of Michael Mann's Manhunter, a film which I love, but which is essentially an extended episode of Miami Vice with a cannibal as the bad guy and William Peterson as Crockett and Tubbs.  To the credit of  Drive's director Nicolas Winding Refn, he does do a really good job of stylizing and building mood and atmosphere that draws you in.  Hence the word slick.

The basic premise of the film is that Gosling's character, who has no name and is simply credited as "Driver," is a movie stunt driver and mechanic who also moonlights as a getaway driver for hire.  That's a pretty unique premise.  The driver's life is fairly precise and you can tell he takes pride in his work on and off the movie set.  His meticulous and purposefully solitary life  goes awry, however, when he tries to help out his pretty neighbor Irene (played by Carey Mulligan) whose fresh-out-of-jail husband is mixed up with some mob bottom-feeders (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman) who are threatening Irene and her son.  Although there's plenty of chemistry between Gosling and Mulligan, I felt more could have been done with Mulligan's character.  For Gosling, it's probably his best film since Half Nelson for which he was nominated for an Oscar.  To the actor's credit, Gosling fills up every moment he has on screen.  Notably, he has very little dialogue, so a lot is conveyed through his expression even when the driver is supposed to be stoic and unflinching.  [As an aside I'm noticing a trend in some films lately having very little dialogue.  For example, Tree of Life]  Gosling's expressions are key because so many scenes are shot in slow motion.  

Most of the time the film was well paced and the plot flowed credibly. There were a few parts where the plot was somewhat out of sync with the rest of the film. For example, Perlman's character Nino meets a somewhat improbable and boring end given the bravado of his character. [But maybe that was the point.]  Also, the audience I was with laughed in some places the filmmaker probably did not intend.  Yet we were all fully engaged in the story and so that was a good thing.  Definitely worth the watch--I would have paid full price.  I might see it again.

Finally, a word to the faint of heart and the weak of stomach: the movie is super violent and graphic, so be warned.  

That is all.

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