Friday, December 16, 2011

MA$$ACRE: Drive (2011)

Nothing says Thanksgiving like watching Ryan Gosling stomp a man's head in with your family after gorging all day. I had seen Drive when it was initially released, but out of all our options for a post-feast film at the dollar theater, this was by far the pick of the litter. Drive exists within the shell of what might be considered an action film, but the action here is at times so restrained that it's best just not to expect any until it eventually explodes. Nicholas Winding Refn ends up using this film to do what he's been doing throughout his directorial career: exploring themes of personal transformation and reinvention with violence as the driving (ha ha)  mechanism.

Ryan Gosling takes the role of Driver, who we're first shown acting as an accessory to a robbery by providing the getaway transportation. This scene is flat-out awesome, as are most of the action sequences in Drive. They're as tense as they are brutal, but still never fall into excess, which grounds them in something more akin to reality than is typical for action films. After the opening scene we're offered a reprieve for quite a while, as we get to know Driver a little better as he develops a not-relationship with Irene (Carey Mulligan), a waitress who lives down the hall from him.

Gosling's portrayal of Driver as a quiet, seemingly shy guy works most of the time, because it offers very little insight into what kind of a man Driver is. Left without dialogue to flesh him out, we project what we expect him to be onto him, and end up making him into a pretty good guy despite his life of crime. I mean, a) he's Ryan Gosling, b) he does some thoughtful things for Irene, c) he seems to be looking for an out when it comes to the whole robbery thing. That last one ends up being correct, but it's never as easy to untangle yourself from the criminal underworld as you think it'll be, and the escalating violence that Driver becomes wrapped up in when he tries to help Irene's family quickly gets out of control. While the action takes over in the latter half of the film, as a whole it remains a character study, and the best part of the film is trying to figure Driver out.

Unfortunately, his ambiguity also leads to some of the weak spots in the film, which are the awkward-pause laden interactions he has with Irene. Since we never really see them talking, their sudden fondness for each other seems sort of abrupt. The dialogue in general (when it's there) is pretty perfunctory and occasionally drops into mob-movie cliche. This is something that I was able to overlook, especially since this movie puts its focus more what characters do rather than what they say.

What I like most about Drive is that takes the well-worn story of a man trying to leave a life of crime and wipes away all the glamour the hero is given just by nature of the fact that he's the protagonist. Gosling's character Driver isn't absolved of his past sins just because he wants to be a better person, nor is he any less of a monster when he employs violence for a good cause. The dichotomy between hero and villain is blurred here, and picking apart exactly what kind of a man Driver is (or wants to be) is what makes this film enjoyable. Definitely check it out if it's still screening in your area, otherwise pick it up on DVD in January. This one comes with my mother's seal of approval.

8 / 10 = Worth your time

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