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Friday, October 14, 2011


The Wheelman With No Name
If you watch Drive on an exterior level, you get a badass action film. A slow burning, tightly paced one, at that. But, if you watch Drive from a critical standpoint, you'll notice more than one polite tip-of-the-hat to Taxi Driver - slight turns from Martin Scorsese's directorial playbook by director Nicolas Winding Refn. Really, Drive could be viewed as a pastiche of action movies and westerns from the glory days of Hollywood. The 70's and 80's era from Hollywood, more specifically. 

Ryan Gosling has a skill - determining the darker aspects of characters that appear to be a little blank on paper. In 2001, he played a self-hating Neo-Nazi Jew in The Believer. In 2010, he was a feigning husband in Blue Valentine (I really hope you all saw that), and here, he's the wheelman with no name. He goes by "the kid", and that's barely a term of endearment from the man who took him in. He (Ryan Gosling) has a hell of a job - he's a stunt driver for the movies, by day, and a getaway driver at night. Of course, he's freelance all the way. When a producer needs a flawless car crash, he's the guy. And when a mob king needs a flawless getaway, there's nobody better. He works with a man named Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who gave him a job years before the movie (and the kid's criminal activity) started. 

He lives on his own, like any self-preserving young criminal might. But, to search his psyche is to destroy the character. He's the ultimate anti-hero - the bad guy going good. Recall Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" trilogy. Good, Bad, Ugly, complete with a fistful of dynamite for only a few dollars. Our story comes to a slow boil about half way through the film, when his beautiful neighbor (Carey Mulligan) takes a shine to him, and let's him into her life (slowly but surely), He gets attached to her little boy. The boy's father is released from prison, and contracted for the famous "one last job" to pay off a debt. The Kid agrees to be the getaway guy and get the father out of debt so he can be the dad he needs to be.

This isn't the film you might think it would be based on the trailer. I know people who went in expecting a Gone in 60 Seconds retread, but left disappointed because they were given something a bit slower and more thoughtful. It seems that some audiences these days just want explosions and gun fights. Well, here's a tip, this film is ultra-violent, without a single explosion or gun fight. What little action there is takes place in the last 45 minutes of the film, during which it doesn't slow down at all (kind of like the driver. get it?). Once the whole thing goes to Hell, it sets up to roost there. Albert Brooks, who steals the movie with his cold as ice and steel portrayal of movie producer turned mob boss Bernie, is the only fire in the film. He's a veteran comedian, but plays this role with the assurance of a man who has something to prove. This is among the best work of his career. Oscar? I hope so.

Lovingly, I'd call this one of the biggest sleepers of the year. Hopefully it garners the cult following that director Nicolas Winding Refn deserves, as his film Bronson seemed to. Will it be a contender for the Oscars outside of Brooks? Yes, it will. I expect big things. And we're approaching that time of year already. If you haven't heard of the film yet, and if you're a filmgoer (like this blog demands) then you will by the end of the year. I don't normally go out of my way to say this in a review, but if you're a film lover, go out of your way to spend the money and see this film. I doubt there will be another one like it any time soon.