I enjoy a good “guy movie” as only a little sister to an older brother can – that is, I enjoy them a lot. That being said, the new movie Drive, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (The Pusher Trilogy, Bronson), went over my head. Happy to see a 93 percent on the tomatometer, I headed down to our favorite (well, only) local theater to see why critics were so impressed. I am sorry to say I was vastly disappointed. Did I miss something that seemingly many other viewers did not? Why did so many reviewers think so highly of this movie? The plot was puzzling and hard to make sense of in the end, but more importantly, the main character’s motivations were unclear.
The film centers on a strong silent type who remains unnamed (played by Ryan Gosling – Half Nelson, Blue Valentine). Our nameless protagonist is a stunt driver for movies by day and a getaway driver by night. However, things turn his world upside down when he falls for the girl next door, Irene (Carey Mulligan – An Education, Never Let Me Go) whose husband has just been released from jail. To make things more complicated, the husband needs help on a job in order to protect his family – the very family our hero now cares for very deeply.
Here we encounter my first problem with the movie – the feelings “Driver” has for Irene supposedly drive (couldn’t resist) him to accept dangerous jobs to protect her, yet their relationship isn’t believable for a second. Most of the scenes between Gosling and Mulligan are filled with long silences between lines of dialogue – representative of the longing of forbidden love? Unspoken passion felt with just one gaze? Either way, Refn’s direction here is perplexing, to say the least.
My other big issue with the film was the excessive violence. Yes, it is a “hard R,” but the amount of violence the ratings administration will allow these days is astounding. Maybe this is a “guy thing” that loses me (but then again, I love The Departed, which can be pretty graphic). Regardless, who really wants to watch someone’s skull get crushed repeatedly by Ryan Gosling’s foot? I, for one, could have done without it. Undoubtedly, there are many films in which violence serves a purpose – Saving Private Ryan, to be authentic and illustrate the horrors of war, or 300, which uses violence for the sake of spectacle-driven stylization. The violence in Drive, however, was in-your-face, grotesque and, in my opinion, unnecessary. Perhaps my threshold for what I’m willing to watch is too conservative, but I felt the violence takes you out of the film. It feels more like a romance/action flick until halfway through the movie when BAM! (literally) someone’s head has just been blown off.
Despite all this, I did enjoy the way Drive was shot. The cinematography had a very neo-noir look to it, and the visuals redeemed other aspects of the film, which I felt were lacking. The opening scene in particular was a slick chase scene that didn’t need huge explosions or cars flipping over to create tension and suspense. Granted, it was a bit downhill from there, but the photography remained offbeat and refreshing.
Overall, I would recommend this movie much more to viewers who don’t mind when things get pretty bloody. If you can stomach that, the film is an intense ride that kept you wondering which road it’s taking next, but this moviegoer felt left at a dead end.
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