DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
DRIVE (director: Nicolas Winding Refn; screenwriters: Hossein Amini/based on the novel by James Sallis; cinematographer: Newton Thomas Sigel; editor: Mat Newman; music: Cliff Martinez; cast: Carey Mulligan (Irene), Ryan Gosling (Driver), Albert Brooks (Bernie Rose), Nino (Ron Perlman), Bryan Cranston (Shannon), Oscar Isaac (Standard), Kaden Leos (Benicio ), Christina Hendricks (Blanche), James Biberi (Cook); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Michel Litvak/John Palermo/Gigi Pritzker/Adam Siegel; Film District; 2011)

"The talented Danish filmmaker revs up the action sequences and violence and outdoes the Americans in their specialty of sleazy pulp fiction."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn ("Pusher"/"Valhalla"/"Bronson") was named at the Cannes Film Festival best director for this existential crime film. This slick ultra-stylish action thriller offers only a slight plot, but many plot twists for its senseless yet riveting story. The talented Danish filmmaker revs up the action sequences and violence and outdoes the Americans in their specialty of sleazy pulp fiction and characterization of hopeless romantic dreamers. The good news is that in an odd way it's as enjoyable as let us say a roller coast ride might be for an adventurous kid. The minimalist grindhouse pic strangely has its antihero criminal, a character not of the modern age except for his love of cars, remind us of a chivalrous Knight of the Roundtable, as he without a palpable reason offers himself up as the fall guy to protect a vulnerable lass in a robbery setup. Though not believable for a sec as anything but a movie device, it provides an amusement park fill of thrills for a B movie that wishes to get your blood pulsing. Refn has an arresting way of working the audience for some crowd-pleasing action scenes, lunatic bloody fights, deadly razor slashings and exciting car chases that keep one glued to the screen with fresh eyes, even if it all seems to be done before. It's based on the crime novel by James Sallis and is written by Hossein Amini. 

Ryan Gosling plays the nameless, laconic, loner, toothpick chomping and white satin bomber jacket with a gold scorpion on its back wearing part-time Hollywood stunt driver, who works days as a garage mechanic for gimpy former stuntman Shannon (Bryan Cranston) and moonlights driving getaway cars for armed heists. In his Echo Park apartment building the stoical Driver meets his attractive hard-pressed neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), who has a young son Benicio (Kaden Leos) and a husband named Standard (Oscar Isaac) in prison. After a brief cautious chaste romance between the two outsiders, the low-level criminal Standard is released from prison. The ex-con owes mobsters protection money from his time in jail, and is forced by the mobsters to rob a pawn shop to pay off his debt or else harm is threatened to him and his family. To the rescue comes the 'shining white knight' Driver, who agrees to drive the getaway car if the mob agrees to lay off Standard and his family after the heist. Things go tragically wrong at the robbery site, and we learn the robbery was orchestrated in secret by a violent pizza store owner enforcer mobster, Nino (Ron Perlman), who did this job without approval from his murderous crime boss Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and wishes to cover his tracks because he knocked off the wrong folks. We learn that the knife wielding crime boss Bernie is an ex-producer of B movies in the 1980s who left the film biz a failure to become a menacing criminal, and who prior to the heist dropped three hundred thousand dollars on Shannon to partner with him on a legit racing car venture where the Driver is the most valuable team member.

What follows the heist are cartoonish action sequences of the Driver going on the attack or defending himself from the numerous goons trying to eliminate him, and doing it by pulverizing them in the most bloody way possible with brute force. It's so outlandish and captivating, and even humorous, that the bloody violence like the fast cars, the dangerous hoods and the vulnerable babes is either a homage or parody to the many action films that it looked like but yet is so different from.

The sleek pic might remind one of Walter Hill's "The Driver," or Michael Mann’s "Thief" or any of those Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns or even Jean-Pierre Melville’s "Le Samouraï," yet this one is a different machine--it comes to life in its own adrenaline filled way and stands out as Refn's signature ode to violence, where a bloodbath cleanses the film from any constraints to its storytelling. What's more, is that the acting is superb for such a schizoid flick that refuses to go fully into a neo-noir mode without kicking and screaming. Gosling makes his absurd role if not plausible at least movie-like iconic (even if his heroic act of self-sacrifice is merely a futile gesture only a sucker would make over such an awkwardly childish romance that never gets past the initial stages); the rough-edged Perlman is perfectly Neanderthal as the crass Jewish gangster still stuck in a 1980s' mindset; while the brilliantly ruthless nebbish out of type hard-edged mobster performance from the comedy actor/director Brooks is a gem--who in my eyes stole the film, being more watchable and interesting even when onscreen together with the always understated gesturing performance by the wired-up but on hold scene stealer Gosling.

REVIEWED ON 9/16/2011       GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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