Tuesday, September 13, 2011
I DON'T CARRY A GUN....I DRIVE
All right, ladies and gents, time to get down to the serious business of discussing Drive. Its director, Nicolas “The Long And” Winding Refn, won Best Director at Cannes this year, and pretty much ever since every critic who's seen it ends up getting the first sentence of their review—usually “holy shit that was awesome” or some variant—before tipping over due to their massive boner. Now, I'm a skeptical fucker, but I'm also a total sucker for sparse, crisply directed noir-influenced pictures with taciturn heroes and skillfully executed, surprising scenes of violence. So I was torn. This morning, I finally saw Drive after months of anticipation, and am no longer torn. Drive fucking owns, and needs to be seen by absolutely every last sentient being on Planet Earth.
Well, okay, not everyone. People who don't like violence should sit this one out, because there are at least five scenes that would give them nightmares. I totally respect where they come from; my aunt Susie and uncle Mike, for example, totally rule and they're good progressives and all and they love movies, but I couldn't recommend this to them. The ownage scenes in Drive are so intense I cringed. And you had best believe that is a powerful testament to how fucking good said ownage scenes are, because lemme tell ya. I done seen some shit in my day. But I never seen someone get the top of their head turned into a slow-motion brain cloud by a shotgun, or get killed by having someone razor blade the artery in their forearm lengthwise from elbow to wrist, that much I can tell you, and those scenes are not soft-pedaled at all. The more standard people-getting-shot stuff is also done really powerfully, with EXTREMELY loud sound mixing (the sound is fantastic in this). Basically, I'll leave it at this: people who don't like violence are advised to see something else this weekend, but those who do, or even those who are neutral, ya gotta fuckin see this, dude.
Second disclaimer before proceeding further: don't mistake the breathless critical response (including, admittedly, my own) for an implication that Drive is somehow perfect, or the cinematic embodiment of the Christ or any shit like that. It's just a really well-directed and acted noir story with really good action scenes. But, that being said, it's a really, really well-directed and acted noir story with fucking off-the-chain ludicrously dope action scenes. And now, on with the review:
Drive is the story of a movie stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as a wheelman for entrepreneurial sorts who need to evade cops. We open with an extremely tense sequence where two knuckleheads knocking off a warehouse somewhere in Los Angeles hire Gosling, and in a display of both top-notch driving and extreme intelligence—the details have to stay vague, but if you pay attention to the sound, the resolution of this sequence is just breathtaking—Gosling pulls it off. Roll opening titles, with dope synth-pop song.
(That's another thing: not only is the soundtrack fucking awesome, it's incredibly of the current cultural moment. You can't swing a stick in 2011 without hitting some group putting records out that sound like the Miami Vice soundtrack. This, in case there is any confusion, is a very very good thing, not in the least because there's no Phil Collins to get all conflicted about “arrrrrgh why the fuck do I like this????” and shit.)
So, Gosling, in spite of being an incredibly buttoned-up and closed-off dude, falls head over heels for next-door-neighbor Carey Mulligan. Which makes perfect sense, if anyone's a Girl Next Door it's Carey Mulligan. She's got a young son who bonds almost instantly with Gosling. She's got a husband in prison. She's got eyes for Gosling.
Gosling works at a garage, for Bryan Cranston (in a terrific performance as the classic noir sad sack wiseass), who has ambitions to start a stock car team with Gosling driving. In order to do so, he needs to borrow some money from the kind of people who it's not good to borrow money from. You know, badass gangsters. Like Ron Perlman; shit, he was Hellboy, he fuckin runs SAMCRO, fer fuck's sake, you don't fuck with Ron Perlman. And Albert Fuckin Brooks, motherfucker, you don't fuck with—wait, Albert Brooks?
Yeah, that Albert Brooks. He plays the more reasonable and personable of the two gangsters (Perlman would be the muscle no matter who the fuck the other dude was, believe), which gives him plenty of opportunity to say funny Albert Brooks-esque stuff. And, I don't want to say too much, but because you will never see it coming in a million fuckin years let it suffice to say Albert Brooks owns a couple of dudes worse than just about anybody has ever owned anyone in any movie. Ever. The fact that it's fucking Albert Brooks doing it makes it all the more awesome. Mark him down for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. In ink. Call it the Christoph Waltz slot.
So, anyway. We know nothing good is going to come of Bryan Cranston getting in bed with Albert Brooks, and that eventually Ryan Gosling is going to end up getting caught up in something. Only thing is, those two end up (kind of) being separate, because before anything else, Gosling has to deal with Carey Mulligan's husband (Oscar Isaac, who by the way is majorly blowing up, he's been in everything the last couple years) getting out of prison. Because he may be out of prison, but he's not free. If ya know what I mean.
I'll leave the plot there, not just because when Christina Hendricks shows up as Oscar Isaac's stripper criminal associate there's a shot of her ass that almost made me lose consciousness, but because that's when things start getting twisty. Also, this is not a movie where the plot is anything revolutionary. All the above description of the narrative is standard-issue noir. Part of the fun in Drive is cataloguing all the “this reminds me of that” moments, which when you look at the list afterward you see some seriously fun shit on the list: Walter Hill's The Driver (from back when he was Walter “Motherfucking” Hill), To Live And Die In L.A. (in a good way), early-mid-80s Michael Mann like Thief and Manhunter (and Miami Vice, with which Michael Mann was closely involved), and, confirmed by the director himself when asked, Steve McQueen's Bullitt.
Of course, it's what he does with those influences that's the important thing. And Drive sees a very skilled director with a terrific eye for detail in full stride. Nicolas Winding Refn tells in a pair of shots what most contemporary directors take twenty-five minutes of endless stupid dialogue scenes to convey. That economy and a terrific, stylish sense of what's cool make Drive one of the best action movies in years, one that puts most contemporary American action movies—besotted with their shakycam and having forsaken choreography for the clusterfuck—to shame.
That might be part of what's caused the ecstatic critical reaction: it's the kind of movie that for some reason doesn't get made as often anymore. While, even in their heyday, low-key noir-ish thrillers weren't often as well-directed as Drive, there nonetheless was a time, twenty-some years ago, stretching back to around the release of Bullitt, when there were enough of them so that when one came out, critics were like, “hey, not a bad little thriller.” Whereas now, with the American action movie going through a prolonged decadent phase, something like Drive drops and people flip the fuck out. Make no mistake: Drive's fucking great and I loved it and even if it had more contemporary action pictures on a similar scale for comparison, it'd still be right up near the top. But part of the reason it seems this good is because circumstances have rendered it almost unique.
Let's not end on a low or even equivocal note, though. Let's end with a parental advisory: Drive is rated R for scenes of intense and fucking awesome ownage, as well as a scene where a bunch of extremely stoic strippers watch Ryan Gosling wreak fucking havoc. It's a movie so fucking good it turned Albert Brooks into a badass (enough of one to almost qualify for the crowded North American group stage of the Badass World Cup, no less). Go see Drive this weekend. Do it for great justice. And also so we can talk about the ownage scenes I can't spoil here, because holy shit do I want to talk about how awesome they are with you.