1 hour, 40 minutes
“Drive,” this week’s indie crime thriller about a getaway driver and the trouble he finds himself in, comes out of left field. I’ve read about it, but mostly in reports from film festivals and from the geeky cinema crowd that goes in for Korean slasher flicks and Spanish zombie movies. I certainly didn’t expect to see it in Kenai, Alaska, despite the fact that it stars Ryan Gosling, current go-to-guy for everything from romantic comedies to downbeat romance-dramas. But that’s the beauty of buzz. Get a little cred on the festival circuit and suddenly you’re nationwide.
Not that “Drive” doesn’t deserve to be seen. It’s a good movie, and while pretty dark and grim, well acted and well produced. Gosling stars as the never named Driver, a wheelman-for-hire by night, and a Hollywood stunt driver by day. While this character would often be presented as the jaded veteran of the crime game, the guy who just wants one more job before he can cash out, Driver is different. He’s perfectly at home where he is. He seems to be kind of out of time — he has no past that the film cares to elucidate, and seemingly no plans for the future. He simply exists in the moment, and things are going good until he bumps into Irene in the elevator at his apartment building. She’s cute, funny, and completely captivating. Through no fault of her own, Irene causes Driver’s carefully balanced world to tip completely upside down.
There are quite a few plot points I could outline, but that would spoil the fun of this meticulously constructed storyline. Though not really an action movie, the few car chase scenes are pretty spectacular — the best I’ve seen since “Ronin,” which I think has the best chase scenes of the last few decades.
The acting is, as I said, top-notch, and not just by Gosling and Carey Mulligan, who plays Irene. There’s a colorful cast of supporting characters who hold their own well. Bryan Cranston, originally from the sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle,” and lately from the dark AMC drama “Breaking Bad,” does well here as Driver’s broken down yet optimistic manager. Ron Perlman, choosing yet another eclectic role, shows up as a hip-hop wannabe mobster hiding out in L.A.
The biggest surprise, however, is Albert Brooks, playing completely against type as a dangerous crime boss with an affinity for knives. I have always appreciated Brooks, and he does a superb job in this role, but I have to admit that there were occasions when I felt a knee jerk compulsion to laugh at some of his scenes, even though they were certainly not funny.
One thing I want to make clear to anyone thinking about going to this film, it’s not what you’re expecting. Not that you are expecting much, or even necessarily thinking of going to see it. There were only two other people in the showing I went to. That said, it’s worth seeing, with this caveat. “Drive” is very violent. Not only is there a lot of blood, often unexpectedly, but the violence is particularly affecting. People are dispatched with guns, knives, hammers, more knives, and at least one bout of vicious kicking. It’s pretty rough.
The movie is kind of a character study about the demons a person carries inside, despite all outward appearances. Driver is a good guy, he wants to do the right thing, but the audience, as well as Irene, is completely unprepared for the kind of man he really is. There’s a scene, and I’ll leave it vague to avoid any spoilers, where Driver ends up bathed in blood. His normally taciturn face, peering around a corner in shadow reveals something more disturbing than just about anything else in the entire film — the ghost of a smile. Gosling plays this character perfectly, giving shades and hints at a past that the film never even begins to elaborate on.
I was very impressed with “Drive,” though I’m not sure how much I enjoyed it. It wasn’t like going to see “Natural Born Killers” or anything, but was actually more reminiscent of a lesser known Oliver Stone film called “U-Turn,” with Sean Penn.
If you haven’t seen the film, I’d recommend it with reservations. The acting and writing is all good, but the whole thing is a little, I don’t know ... yech. It’s the kind of movie where you just don’t really expect anything good to turn out, and then the filmmakers go out of their way to prove you right. “Drive” is like that.
“Drive” is rated R for gruesome, bloody violence, language, and nudity.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.