Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: DRIVE

An action movie is about order wresting itself from chaos, changed, stronger.

Action heroes don't always know they're good people. By the end they are aware of the cost of being good and how important it is to keep up the effort. A bad action movie will have all this but it will push the stunts and pyrotechnics so far forward that that simple moral discovery gets smothered. A good action movie provides a compelling case for the action before it can take place so that we in the audience must need it to happen. True Lies is a bullshit action movie. Drive is a very good one.

Ryan Gosling's nameless driver is a creature of great precision, doing stunt work by day and working as a getaway driver for the kicks as well as the money by night. The film opens with the latter kind of job as he picks up a pair of serious looking burglars and, after a very tight wait for their remergance from the job, and gets them out of danger with a series of impressive evasive manoeuvres. He loves his skill. A flat action star just looks good between lines (Keanu Reeves). A full blooded one shows you what he's thinking and his few lines are precious. Gosling is such an one. When he isn't speaking he's observing. I first saw him as a fuckup teacher in Half Nelson and then as the profoundly damaged loner in Lars and the Real Girl and each time his casting has lifted the film he's in. Same here. By the time you see him shyly notice his beautiful young neighbour in their apartment's lift you start looking  forward to seeing how he thaws out for her. And you know it's going to take work.

Much of the attention of the rest of the cast has gone to Christina Hendricks. She does a fine job as an underworld utility but really the attention is related to her high profile role in Mad Men. It's Carey Mulligan who shines brightest here. I know her from the recent Never Let Me Go where she played the dowdy/sobering  lead. Here, outfitted with an American accent and bottle blondness, she owns her every shot. A young mother with a husband in prison she shows clear personal strength but allows a fragility through the closer she gets to Gosling's character. Also, having all those qualities but the face of a fourteen year old and the body of a woman in her twenties she is utterly disconcerting on screen.

When the crunch comes for these two it is literal and silencing. Because of the work of establishing their characters has been so full there is a genuine moment of  suspense following (no details, no spoilers) as to how this extreme shared experience will play out. It's just a moment but it's there. That's attention to detail for you.

I'm skimping on the plot details as there is just too much to potentially spoil and this is a plotty film. Suffice to say that the driver is taken from his accessory role in crime to a self-revalatory maelstrom that is as believable as it is violent. Rising action maestro from Copehagen Nicholas Winding Refn displays an effortless skill in judging when to turn the action tap on and off and how to soothe the impatient nervous system between times: rest and motion, rest and motion, wrestling and emotion. I will say that the third act felt draggy through an evenness of pacing but also that that appeared to be deliberate.

Also, thanks be for depicting gangsters who don't quote The Art of War or waffle through pages of dialogue before getting to the point. These mobsters are hard arse bastards. When points of vulnerability appear they are dealt with as they would be in life, with a swift and sure dismissal. Comedian Albert Brooks is frighteningly against type and his partner Ron Perlman also. Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston crawls back from badass into pathos effectively. And the violence, the lifeblood of the middle and final acts of any action movie is tense and ugly, the worst of it kept offscreen to prevent it from bloating beyond its purpose.

Action movies find their morality in the fatefully unacknowledged monsters of heroes. There is a song throughout the film, used initially for scenes of the driver and Irene falling in love but then entering into more extreme fare. It's a heavily 80s influenced synth pop number with thunking  bass and ethereal female vocal. The chorus goes" have you the strength to be a real human being and a real hero?" That should be as deadly as a choctop to a diabetic but it works and, blessedly, works without irony.

Go and see Drive. Now!

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