before the free hype machine known as social media (blogosphere, twit-ter, tumbler without the e, peeinterest…etc, at least instagram was not involved) decided joss whedon is the new orson welles and embraced everything he produced or directed, nicolas winding refn’s drive was the cause celebre. there were even ires that it wasn’t nominated for more oscars. having finally seen the movie, i have no idea why anyone would think that it deserves to be on any year end top ten list, let alone oscar nominations (it was nominated for sound editing, along with michael bay’s transformers 3: the pink floyd years but lost to hugo). it was nominated for best picture, director, actor, and supporting actor at the independent spirit awards, and albert brooks was also nominated for a golden globe for best supporting actor, but lost to christopher plummer.
even though the novel this is based on (by james sallis) has a sequel called driven, it’s not a prequel to the renny harlin/stallone movie driven. it also has nothing to do with mark dacascos’s 1998 drive, or drive angry.
the opening sequence lays out what you could expect for the rest of the movie. ex-mouseketeer ryan gosling explains his rules, as if he’s a transporter. he’s so good at driving that he’s hired by criminals five minutes at a time as a getaway driver. instead of driving really fast or have a really cool car, he simply knows the streets and uses wit to evade the police. he can be moderately fast, and at no time furious. best of all, nos is never mentioned in the movie. it’s somewhat interesting that the camera stays in the car. there’s no overhead shots of a huge car chase or cars crashing into things.
next we see the nameless driver in a cop uniform. it would have led me to think “oh my god, is he a cop!?” but the internet buzz ruined that. turns out he’s a stunt driver in hollywood. under this economy, and perhaps because of a socialist muslim president who may not have been born in the u.s., the driver has to resort to criminal activities in addition to his day job as a stunt driver, AND a mechanic in a garage owned by shannon, played by bryan cranston, from tv’s breaking bad, tv’s malcolm in the middle, and the dentist from tv’s seinfeld. the nameless driver also has a neighbor irene (carey mulligan), whose husband (oscar isaac) is conveniently in jail. things get worse from there when irene’s husband is released from jail, which lead to the only crime bosses in the city, bernie rose and nino, played by albert brooks and ron perlman.
i guess it may be a surprise to some people that an ex-mouseketeer can play the role of the silent action hero. i haven’t seen many gosling movies but he gave a taxi driver level performance in the believer, so i wasn’t too surprise. most of the other actors are wasted. mulligan’s neighbor character is almost as quiet and reserved as the driver, except the movie follows the driver’s story, so she’s as developed as the love doll in lars and the real girl. cranston plays the older mentor to the driver, a role that is stereotypical of similar crime dramas. perlman fares better as a more comical villain in a sea of emo-ness. the most wasteful though, goes to christina hendricks from tv’s mad men. she’s only in two scenes and frankly, it could have been played by any actress.
then there’s albert brooks, who’s been rallied by netizens for an oscar, is equally good as the seemingly nice villain. i don’t think he’s exceptionally great. i thought his role in out of sight is more oscar-worthy. but then out of sight should have been nominated for a bunch of oscars in the first place. and to be honest, in addition to being a big fan of out of sight, i also think that brooks should be nominated any time he makes a movie. not just in his own movies for writing and acting like real life, lost in america, modern romance, defending your life, mother, and the muse but also my first mister and taxi driver. thankfully he did win one for broadcast news, which he neither wrote nor directed. but i am probably overthinking it since it’s unlikely that most drive-lovers know him as a filmmaker. or maybe they think that a comedian in a serious villain role should be rewarded. they should probably watch mamet’s the spanish prisoner in which steve martin plays a suave villain, or robin williams in insomnia or one hour photo.
despite the marketing, drive is not really an action packed film. there are two inventive car chase sequences, one of which is the opening. i don’t have a problem with movies that doesn’t adhere to the genre it’s supposed to be, and i’m not going to file a lawsuit because it’s neither fast nor furious. but i am not quite sure what people see in it. it’s not deep enough to be a character study (american psycho got to the 80s-ish protagonist without identity earlier and better). i supposed it can be seen as a crime noir, a passable one that the coen brothers could knock out with their eyes closed. interestingly, drive shares the same tagline as the coens’ no country for old men, which is a better movie.
another weird thing about the movie is that there seems to be a strong ode to the 80s. there is the font (rage italic for those interested) and also the nighttime l.a. landscapes and driving scenes that reminds one of early michael mann movies and yes, the video game vice city (which came out a decade before this movie). the soundtrack is filled with 80s sounding synth-pop. not that i am complaining since i love that 80s stuff. but then the movie strongly states, through brooks’ character, that he used to be a big movie producer in the 80s. so it definitely does not takes place in the 80s.
all the songs in the movie are actually from the 00s, when that 80s retro feel is hip. worst of all, all the songs in the movie have lyrics that explains everything that’s going on, like those musical numbers by jonathan richman in there’s something about mary. at times i wonder if the movie is supposed to be a parody of 80s action movies. i guess it may be cool and creative if i haven’t played vice city, or seen bullit, the french connection, walter hill’s the driver, or michael mann’s thief, manhunter, or even heat.
and that psuedo-parody angle brings up another issue i have with the movie. there is a kind of condescending attitude towards the 80s action movies. there seems to be some sort of comments on the style over substance big budget hollywood action movies. the driver asks cranston to find him an inconspicuous car in the beginning but then he wears the same scorpion jacket during most of the movie, which has turned into some kind of memorabilia on the intraweb. (and yes, the scorpion and the frog parable is used once again, though thankfully they didn’t tell the whole story. it’s just hinted at.) and for some reason, for a movie that takes place after the 80s, as the film makes it abundantly clear, no one, not even the bad guys, use guns. it’s as if they are saying “ha ha, look at us, we are making a supposedly 80s action movie but we are not going to give you the satisfaction of your typical action movies and have action scenes. we are doing some arty shit.” maybe someone should notify refn that his fellow danish filmmaker, lars von trier, has a similarly condescending attitude towards american pop culture but von trier has a more unique vision and is able to showcase his vision in a more imaginative way.
the condescending attitude is not limited to the filmmakers. i suspect drive received such praises mostly because people like gosling and refn, who directed the psuedo-foreign movies like bronson and the pusher trilogy, are involved. isn’t it nice that female audience members get to admire gosling on a purely physical level and get to hide behind some barely there artistic facade. isn’t it nice that lovers of “indie” and foreign films get the chance to love an action movie. and aww, he’s so good with the kid. they are the same people would not be caught dead in attending, let alone admitting, to liking a mere action crime film. there’s just enough emo-ness for modern audience to admire, specifically ones who weren’t alive in the 80s and be able to look at that decade with hipster nostalgia. i thought we were done with that that year the wedding singer and all those high school reunion movies came out.
i guess it sounds kind of harsh, mostly due to the social media’s overhyping. but i do like the movie, i just didn’t love it like everyone else. yes, it’s better than all the direct-to-video movies i’ve seen, or most post-action frame-fucking michael bay-ish spectacles that hollywood churns out. but then it’s not really oscar-worthy either. is the standard so low that we are bending over backward for any movie that has attention span, uses a tripod, and a warm over coen brothers script? i liked it the first time i saw it, and watching it the second time because of this review, i didn’t really gain anything new. there isn’t anything surprising or groundbreaking that i would ever want to watch it again. it’s instantly forgettable and when the mood strikes, i would rather spend my time with michael mann or the coen brothers, or the driver, or the french connection, or even ronin, or maybe replay grand theft auto: vice city. there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done earlier and better.
the song “drive,” by the 80s band the cars, does not show up in the movie.
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