Do you ever get the feeling that something is going well over your head, but you can't quite figure out what it is? That is how I feel after watching the new film from director Nicolas Winding Refn, “Drive”, based on the novel by James Sallis. This movie is getting fantastic reviews, it even won Best Director at Cannes, and for the life of me I cannot figure out why.
“Drive” is the story of, unsurprisingly, a driver (Ryan Gosling: “Crazy, Stupid, Love”), who, when he is not acting as a wheelman-for-hire, is a mechanic and a movie stunt driver. He's developed a bit of a crush on his next door neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan: “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”), whose ex-convict husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac: “Sucker Punch”), owes a great deal of protection money to some reputable businessmen.
In the interest of protecting Irene and her son, the Driver agrees to help Standard with a robbery that will put him even with his creditors. So along with a woman named Blanche (Christina Hendricks: “Mad Men”), they set out to do what should be a basic, low-level robbery. Naturally things go spectacularly wrong.
This sounds like an exciting film, right? Check out the trailer, it even looks exciting. It looks like it could be a heist movie, or perhaps a roaring rampage of revenge; hell, at the beginning it even seems like it is going to similar to “The Transporter”, but it's not. In fact, despite being called “Drive” very little driving actually goes on in it. A better title would probably have been “Awkward Silence”.
The movie tends to go like this. Dialog, awkward silence, more dialog, awkward silence, something exciting happens, awkward silence. I think that if you were to edit out all of the awkward silence, most of which is just Ryan Gosling staring off into space, you would be left with thirty, maybe forty minutes of movie. There were points early on in the film where I was seriously wondering if Gosling's character was trying to be broody, or if he was just slow-witted. Some of these awkward pauses went on so long that people in the audience started laughing at them.
Of course it wasn't just the silences that elicited laughter from the audience; by the end of the film the close-ups Driver's golden jacket with its embroidered scorpion started getting chuckles as well. Plus it's never a good sign when people are laughing at what seemed like they were supposed to be highly dramatic moments in the film too (the scene in the elevator in the trailer got the biggest laugh of the entire film).
Am I being a bit harsh? Well it may be justified, as this is the first screening I have attended in the three years I have been going to them where people actually got up and walked out. So if something in this film is going over my head, then it's going over the heads of a lot of other non-professional critics as well. There are moments where I can see the director's skill (the use of lighting in the elevator scene stood out for me), but a lot of the time I was left thinking “well, maybe this would make more sense if I had read the book first”.
It's not all bad though, as there are some shining moments in the film. These moments pretty much all involve Nino (Ron Perlman: “Hellboy”) and Bernie (Albert Brooks: “Lost in America”, “Defending Your Life”) as a pair of mobsters who are helping to finance the Driver's potential career as a race car driver (did I forget to mention the race car driver thing? Well, don't worry, it's not important).
Perlman is unfortunately only in a few scenes, but probably half of the swearing in the film comes from him. The role of a Jewish, pizzeria running mobster is not a perfect fit for him, but Nino is a joy to watch. Not only does it seem quite the rarity to even see him without some sort of make-up on, but I can't really recall him having many rolls where he even gets to curse.
As fun as Perlman is, the show-stealer has to be Albert Brooks. His scenes drop almost all of the awkward silence and replace it with sarcastic humor and violence. I don't think I have ever seen Brooks play anything as cold-blooded as Bernie Rose before, and I wish the movie had been more about him, and less about the Driver, because all of his scenes were genuinely interesting and entertaining.
At the risk of seeming like an unsophisticated plebeian for not liking what is clearly being regarded as some sort of masterpiece, I have to say that I did not like this film. It's not as if I don't enjoy the occasional deep, and possibly even slow film (I genuinely liked both “The Box” and “Blindness”), but this was just boring. It's slow, uneventful, and when something does happen it is over too fast, and we're back to awkward silences again. The trailer really does show off all of the film's best content, and sorry ladies, but Gosling doesn't even take off his shirt for you.
If you want to see an award winning film whose vision outstretches its grasp, and is chocked full of long, dramatic, awkward silence, then check this movie out. If you want to see an awesome action film about a driver, go rent “The Transporter”
“Drive” is in theaters now.