“DRIVE yourself to the theater right now and see this revved-up thrill-ride!” – Pete Hammond
I have to believe that at least half the people who saw Drive last weekend had no idea what they were getting into. Much like fellow pop art pieces 127 Hours and Inglourious Basterds, Drive lures you in on the promise of one movie and then — FAKE OUT — manages to show off something completely different. Oh, the pink font and straightforward trailer had you convinced you were buying tickets to a fast-moving heist movie? That’s adorable! Ryan Gosling would playfully wink at you if he weren’t busy threatening some dude’s life with a hammer. Or shotgun. Or car. He’s adept with pretty much all of those weapons, because your future husband from The Notebook is SOMETHING OF A PSYCHOPATH — handsomer than Travis Bickle, but with the same Vesuvian temper and “jacket as uniform” fashion sense. This ain’t your grandma’s Baby Goose!
The story is uncomplicated and efficient: unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling) works as a grease monkey and sometimes stunt driver by day, reliable getaway driver by night. He’s lonely, and listens — we presume — to a lot of electronica. But then an angel-from-heaven neighbor (Carey Mulligan) is dropped into his life, his non-interventionist philosophy is upended, and Driver must fight to protect the woman he loves from sadistic mob goons. He does all this while wearing the pimping-est warmup jacket anyone has ever seen.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn has suggested that, pared down to its essential elements, Drive is in fact a superhero origin story. He makes a decent case: a uniquely powered individual hones his strength, runs afoul of equally powerful villains, and through love finds himself in a “protector” role he never wanted but now can’t possibly give up. (Plus the jacket, which might as well be a skintight red and blue spider-suit.) It’s catchy to a point — you can make anything sound plausible with the right number of “I’m just saying!”s — but what pushes Drive toward instant-classic territory isn’t any thematic underpinnings, but the fact that the story is exactly as simple as you think it is.
It’s a love story! Maybe not one that those of the female persuasion will want to see ever again (for a couple of reasons — more in the next paragraph), but it wears its heart on its sleeve in a way that’s sometimes even eye-rollingly sincere. Take the chorus of the movie’s (excellent) theme song, which sings “You have grown to be a real human being / and a real hero.” THAT IS WHAT WE ARE SEEING BABY GOOSE DO ON SCREEN! RIGHT NOW! Even though the combined total dialogue of Gosling and Mulligan amounts to, like, five pages of polite nods and yes/no questions, it’s carried by actors so infinitely charming and attractive that you wish there were even more scenes of them staring into each other’s eyes.
…Of course it’s also VIOLENT AS SH*T, which is one more reason to skip this for Moneyball on your next date night. Winding Refn paces the movie with such deliberation that those moments of ultraviolence, which start with a shotgun blast to someone’s head, seem to practically invade your personal space. In sight and sound, they’re jarring to the extreme. Or more simply: if you don’t want to know what it sounds like when Baby Goose crushes a man’s skull under his boot, maybe don’t see this movie. (Even though it is very good!)
There’s also room to be put off by Drive‘s treatment of its female characters. Mulligan, for all her talents, is there to look angelically pretty and innocent. And in ten minutes of screen time Christina Hendricks is strictly a tarted-up moll (I don’t even remember her name). The Bechdel Test is assuredly not passed. But there’s not some incredible double standard here — NO one in this movie, male or female, is really a model of three-dimensionality. You think Ron Perlman was hired to look like anything but Donkey Kong in a track suit? All the way up to its most dynamic character, Albert Brook’s Bernie Rose, the movie trades on archetypes. It happens to do so very well, but we say again: simple. Efficient.
Drive is unquestionably a polarizing movie, and how you feel about it will likely depend on how much you like the following things:
– Sweet jackets
– Accents you will never for the life of you be able to totally place
– Horror movie conventions in a mob thriller package
– Women as objects (but really pretty objects)
– On-the-nose music that wouldn’t feel out of place in a mid-season episode of The OC
– Avenging spectres of the road
– RYAN FLIPPING GOSLING
It’s up to you! Lifting Fog gives you our blessing either way.