Drive

October, 2011, Thriller

 

 

Danish writer/director Nicholas Winding Refn the creator of this mesmerizing but savagely brutal crime drama about a Hollywood stunt man who moonlights as a driver of getaway cars in armed robberies will be best understood by those who’ve seen The Pusher trilogy, which Refn began in 1996 and completed a decade later. Those films displayed both aspects of this deceptively boyish-looking filmmaker’s style; visually electrifying skill behind the camera and an insistence on employing graphic violence (as a form of sexual perversion?) on screen. The result? An small body of work that enthralls audiences while also making them queasy.

 

That’s evident in Refn’s latest, this slick, handsomely-produced action piece which employs the skills of Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan and Albert Brooks in an often spell-binding tale of criminal double cross and revenge intermittently laced with the type of gore usually confined to B-grade horror movies.

 

Gosling brings quiet, intense focus to a character reminiscent of the cheroot smoking “man with no name” in Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns of the 1960’s. Sporting a calm demeanor consistent with his boyish good looks and a smile which flits from innocent to knowing, Gosling makes the movie’s half-crook/half-blue collar car jockey an endearing protagonist if only because he’s surrounded by a collection of despicable scum-bags. He lives dangerously both inside and outside the law, but seems to know his own limitations…</p>

 

That is until he meets Irene, (Carey Mulligan) whose cherubic face and cute 4-year-old son combine to win the driver’s unarticulated affections. Irene lives down the hall from the driver’s spartan apartment as she waits for the release of her husband from prison.  When he’s released and pressured into committing a robbery for some mobsters who lent him money, the driver agrees to participate, triggering a spasm of grisly betrayal and gory revenge.

 

Albert Brooks has a field day playing against type as Bernie Rose, a criminal mastermind with a special affinity for disarming banter, sharp knives and a sociopathic disregard for others. Ron Perlman plays his vicious partner Nino who complains that being Jewish heritage prevents him from being taken seriously by the Italian mob bosses whose money he’s foolishly stolen. Both are repellant, but it’s Bernie’s breezy penchant for drawing close to people to more easily dispose of them in the most unnecessarily gory ways that makes him the screen’s most frightening monster since Hannibal Lector. Loathsome he undoubtedly is, but Bernie should turn out to be Brook’s ticket to an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.

 

Cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel (whose credits include more than 50 titles including big-budget productions such as X-Men, Superman Returns and Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie) squeezes lots of impressive camerawork into the car chase scenes, creating the impression that the streets of Los Angles are often more interesting and less dangerous than its citizens.

 

Refn and Siegel work together smoothly to give the film a high-gloss that exceeds its relatively modest budget, but while Gosling & Co. deliver thoroughly consistent performances which lend authenticity to the film’s striking visual images, you can’t leave the theater without feeling that you’ve been treated to an uncomfortable extension of screen violence. Ever since director Sam Peckinpaugh blew people apart with those now famous slow-motion gunfights in The Wild Bunch, the increase in explicit violence has followed the same trajectory, as the sexual content in cinema - - from racy to raunchy to soft-core porn. It may sell tickets, but those of us in the seats should be leery of this “bracket creep” in bad taste. Oddly enough, Refn’s stages the climax of his film in shadows, proving that inventiveness trumps explicitness every time.

 

The Verdict? A visually exciting entry in the action/thriller genre, marred by the director’s penchant for seductively violent images.

 

That is until he meets Irene, (Carey Mulligan) whose cherubic face and cute 4-year-old son combine to win the driver’s unarticulated affections. Irene lives down the hall from the driver’s spartan apartment as she waits for the release of her husband from prison.  When he’s released and pressured into committing a robbery for some mobsters who lent him money, the driver agrees to participate, triggering a spasm of grisly betrayal and gory revenge.

 

Albert Brooks has a field day playing against type as Bernie Rose, a criminal mastermind with a special affinity for disarming banter, sharp knives and a sociopathic disregard for others. Ron Perlman plays his vicious partner Nino who complains that being Jewish heritage prevents him from being taken seriously by the Italian mob bosses whose money he’s foolishly stolen. Both are repellant, but it’s Bernie’s breezy penchant for drawing close to people to more easily dispose of them in the most unnecessarily gory ways that makes him the screen’s most frightening monster since Hannibal Lector. Loathsome he undoubtedly is, but Bernie should turn out to be Brook’s ticket to an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.

 

Cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel (whose credits include more than 50 titles including big-budget productions such as X-Men, Superman Returns and Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie) squeezes lots of impressive camerawork into the car chase scenes, creating the impression that the streets of Los Angles are often more interesting and less dangerous than its citizens.

 

Refn and Siegel work together smoothly to give the film a high-gloss that exceeds its relatively modest budget, but while Gosling & Co. deliver thoroughly consistent performances which lend authenticity to the film’s striking visual images, you can’t leave the theater without feeling that you’ve been treated to an uncomfortable extension of screen violence. Ever since director Sam Peckinpaugh blew people apart with those now famous slow-motion gunfights in The Wild Bunch, the increase in explicit violence has followed the same trajectory, as the sexual content in cinema - - from racy to raunchy to soft-core porn. It may sell tickets, but those of us in the seats should be leery of this “bracket creep” in bad taste. Oddly enough, Refn’s stages the climax of his film in shadows, proving that inventiveness trumps explicitness every time.

 

The Verdict? A visually exciting entry in the action/thriller genre, marred by the director’s penchant for seductively violent images.

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