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DRIVE (2011)

Continuing this short streak of on-time reviews, I went and saw Drive earlier today.  And, quite honestly, I don’t know if I enjoyed it.  The film is truly different from anything else I’ve seen and would take about three reference films to give you a general idea of what it was like.  But I’ll bypass the name-dropping and just begin my assessment.  (I’ve tried to steer away from the massive paragraphs and instead typed up a bunch of bullet point thoughts when the movie ended.  The short paragraphs below are those bullet points fleshed out, but you might still see some odd bullet syntax.)

THE GOOD

Ryan Gosling’s character (I’m not being lazy, he doesn’t have a name.  In the credits, he’s referred to as Driver.) is one of the most enigmatic machinations I’ve ever seen.  His character is inherently inhuman for the brutality he exacts upon his aggressors and the manic-depressive behavior he exhibits.  And, while I’m so on the fence about him that it hurts, the lack of humanity works in his character.  Because he is a man with no name, he can be more or less than human.  (For anybody who’s read it, this is a bit like Shadow from American Gods)

Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac) is an interesting character for his considerably more human portrayal, though he gets few precious moments of screen time before being executed to further the plot.  Returning from jail, he’s not the belligerent ex-con, but instead a caring father and family man who wants to repair the frayed ties to the people he loves and put his incarceration behind him.  Unfortunately, he’s not that lucky.

Irene (Carey Mulligan) and Benicio (Kaden Leos) are completely static characters, Irene the adulterous wife and Beni the aloof child.  As his father is being injured and subsequently dies, Beni’s demeanor changes little.  Irene’s feelings for Ryan seem to grow immediately following the death of her husband as viewed in the elevator scene and the film’s ending.

Shannon (Bryan Cranston) is a similarly static character.  He never does much to give his character depth, leaving us with a down-and-out auto shop owner who’s hired Gosling (and genuinely likes him) and has ties to the local mob.  While he’s inherently dirty for his ties to the mob and scheduling of Gosling’s "after-hours" activities, you grow fond for him throughout the film and are sad to see him killed.

The main mobsters of this film have received accolades from other critics and not without reason.  Nino (Ron Perlman) is a sort of horrifying ape of a man, who seems a sociopath until he has a conversation with his partner, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), and describes why life as a Jewish mobster is so difficult.  It’s almost endearing.  Still, Albert Brooks has more screen-time and effectively uses it to make something more than a one-dimensional mobster.  He’s a business man with friends who, begrudgingly, has to kill them.  While he seems to be a sociopath for the swiftness with which he kills, it’s business.  Still, it’s evident, on occasion, that his fondness for certain people extends to the way in which he takes care of them (i.e., attempting to be merciful when killing Shannon).

Beyond the odd assortment of characters, the film has an eclectic artistic direction.  There are many scenes in which we only see Gosling’s face and/or torso behind the wheel and the blurred background changing outside the windows.  It’s also a film that seems hell-bent on showing us that it takes place in Los Angeles.  (That last bit made me happy because I got to see shots of my hometown.) The most interesting artistic aspect of this film though, were the scenes resembling live theatre, where the lighting would dim on all players and sets save for the one(s) we’re supposed to focus upon. 

Finally, there’s an odd bit of irony in closing music.  A pop song with the lyrics "a real hero, a real human being" plays as Gosling drives away and the credits begin to roll.  It seems particularly ironic because those are the two things Gosling’s character did not seem to embody.  Gosling is less a hero or human, and more a destructive, though "just" force of nature.  He shows up, with no identity, enacts whatever he must, and leaves without anybody knowing who he is.

THE BAD

Film appears as if it’s 25-30 years old if not for the infrequent cell phone usage and a few cars.  That’s my succinct way of saying that, if they hadn’t shown us shot after shot of Los Angeles hot spots or made references to where everything was (Reseda Blvd, The valley, Echo Park, etc.), this film would have had no discernible time or place setting.  And doing so could have worked for this story, making it less real, and more a definition or attempt to redefine the archetype it was expected to fulfill. 

THE UGLY

Film will likely become notorious for seemingly unnecessary gore.  This film begins with driving and pleasant characters, enwrapped in some sort of intrigue (in this case, criminal acts to further advance their financial status quo).  Then Standard is being attacked by his old prison mates and everything takes a turn for the bloody after a failed heist.  Standard dies at the heist with multiple shot gun blasts to the back.  Then a female accomplice dies at the hide out after she takes a shot gun blast to the head (which we see in slow motion).  Gosling then kills the two assailants who’ve come to the hide out, one with a shot gun and another by ramming a pipe through his stomach/chest/mouth (I can’t remember which, just a lot of blood).  Then we have a series of knife/fork/straight razor based deaths and assaults, all proving a bit taxing on my stomach.  Luckily, I’d not eaten anything prior to viewing this film.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The film is not about the characters but about the actions they take out upon each other.  I know that seems a serious generalization and applicable to any film, but that’s what made this film different.  The characters didn’t need names or even backstories to tell the story as it did, it just needed faces and bodies to act out the motions.  The actions said more than words ever could and the film lingers in my mind because it chose not to tell me who I was seeing.

Now, leaving the review and entering the consumer advice (my old writing teacher’s gripe with critics), should you go see this film?  Well, it’s rated R for gore and nudity, so take that into account however you please.  It’s an interesting story that makes me want to read the novel it’s based off of.  So, while I can’t entirely say that I liked it, I do recommend it for others to form their own opinion on what will likely be a polarizing film.

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