“Drive” Movie Review

     Two of the genres I am always most critical of are Crime Dramas and Science Fiction.  No doubt this is due to the glut of Tarantino, Cameron, Lucas, and Spielberg films I worship, but it’s also due in part to my demands for original entertainment.  I don’t care for rehashing of old ideas and I’m typically bothered by rip offs.  The new film “Drive” by director Nicolas Winding Refn explores all of the typical attributes of a Crime Drama, but also puts an interesting spin on the proceedings.  Couple that with a solid all around cast and a powerful lead performance by Ryan Gosling, and “Drive” succeeds as a sound example of quality filmmaking.

     Gosling is a nameless wheelman who is hired under certain terms to drive the getaway car for burglars and robbers.  During the first hour of the film, Refn slowly and methodically introduces us to the seedy world in which the driver occupies.  We immediately see him skillfully avoiding capture after being spotted by a police car while leaving the scene of a crime.  Shortly after, we see him in an LAPD uniform only to realize he moonlights as a stunt driver in Hollywood as well.  He clearly leads a busy life and doesn’t seem to have much down time, but doesn’t really say much either.

     When he’s not stunt driving or aiding criminals in their escape, he also works in an auto repair shop for a father figure named Shannon (Bryan Cranston).  Shannon knows of the Driver’s exploits and is also well aware of his immense skill as a driver.  Shannon pitches to his mob boss friend Bernie (Albert Brooks) the idea of investing money in a race car and to have his protege drive for them.  We are led to believe early that Shannon has been in deep waters within organized crime in the past and is still in some type of debt to them.

     The Driver meets a young women named Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son who have moved next door to him in anticipation of her husband being released from prison.  The Driver befriends both Irene and her son and begins to form a close bond at the point where her husband is released from prison.  It is at that point in the film where paths begin to cross as her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is in debt for protection in prison and is ordered by the same cronies Shannon is in business with to rob a pawn shop.  If he refuses, they threaten to come after Irene and his son and this is where the Driver offers his services.

     There is no doubt that Refn is heavily influenced by both Michael Mann and Quentin Tarantino and I believe it would be fact that “Drive” would never exist if not for these influences.  The film is loaded with numerous Michael Mann style Los Angeles cityscapes and nighttime backgrounds along with a musical score so similar to “Heat” that I thought the tracks might’ve been covers of that film’s score (they’re not).  Further more, the film’s opening credits features a bright pink font which harks back to Mann’s “Miami Vice”.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for film buffs like me it is rather annoying knowing and seeing these details repeat themselves throughout the film.  To me “Drive” plays like a film that could be about Robert DeNiro’s character in “Heat” if it were only about him.  The Driver has no attachments and he remains cool as a cucumber for the entire film, even in the most tense scenes he always seems in control of his emotions or he’s emotionless altogether.

     To pay homage to Tarantino, Refn also uses long silences where he does a slow zoom on a characters expression so as the audience has time to think about what that character is thinking.  This technique ups the tension considerably and Refn uses these types of scenes for nearly an hour with no payoff.  Then in true “Pulp Fiction” style, there is a payoff and a big one at that.  In fact “Drive” is loaded with surprising over the top gory violence throughout the third act.  If your into this type of thing, “Drive” will not disappoint.  Conversely, if you think “Drive” is a reincarnation of the “Fast and Furious” franchise then you will likely be disappointed because save a few notable scenes, “Drive” is not an action film.

     Without a doubt, there is a lot to like in “Drive” and I think the strong script and Gosling’s stellar performance keep the film interesting.  Yes, I’ve pointed out a number of originality issues, but to most that won’t be a problem. There is a strong story here, even if the director felt the need to pander to his idols (I’d probably have done the same thing!) Perhaps the highlight of the film is a tour de force car chase sequence after a botched robbery attempt in which the Driver’s car is none other than a bad ass 2012 blue Ford Mustang GT.  That alone makes “Drive” worth the price of admission!  GRADE: B