September 20, 2011 -- “Drive” is sort of like a cross between “Taxi Driver” and the old western “Shane.” It is the tale of a loner who has a lot of hidden rage hiding under a calm surface. He steps out of his self-imposed exile to befriend a family and ends up in the middle of a bloody series of confrontations. The level of violence in the film is extreme, featuring shootings, stabbings and beatings, most of which are very bloody.
Although the film is fairly one-dimensional, it is expertly directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Nothing seems wasted. Every scene is lean and to the point. Dialogue is spare. Much of the film's story is conveyed in visuals. The screenplay by Hossein Amini, based on James Sallis' book is also spare and to the point. There is no wasted dialogue. Every word has a purpose and does the job. The film's main character is played by Ryan Gosling, a gifted actor who underplays his role as a film stunt driver, robbery getaway driver and garage mechanic who is a lot more dangerous than he appears to be. He doesn't talk much, and when he does, it is right to the point. When he smiles, watch out. Gosling's minimalist approach amplifies the importance of his few facial expressions, particularly that dangerous smile. His character is confident, cold and calculating and he gives the impression he has nothing to lose and is not afraid to die.
The lone driver is drawn to a pretty young neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan of “An Education”), and her son, Benicio (Kaden Leos). The expected showdown between him and Irene's husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac of “Robin Hood”) just released from prison, doesn't happen. The script is smarter than that. Instead, the driver tries to help out Standard get free of some bad guys who threaten Standard, Irene and Benicio if Standard doesn't help them pull off a robbery in order to pay off a debt. The robbery goes bad in about the worst way possible and it sets off a deadly series of murders.
There are an awful lot of coincidences in this story, with all these people, the robbery and the murders leading back to a couple of small time organized crime wise guys, Bernie Rose (played by Albert Brooks of “Out of Sight” in a rare turn as a heavy) and his partner, Nino (Ron Perlman of the Hellboy movies), who runs his small time criminal empire out of a pizza parlor. The driver tries his best to protect Irene and Benicio with the aid of his best friend, garage owner and stunt car builder Shannon (Bryan Cranston of “Contagion”). Just like in the movie “Shane” the driver turns out to be someone who has what it takes to ride to the rescue. The bad guys keep underestimating him. As in “Taxi Driver” the hero has a very dark side, which comes out in these final, bloody confrontations. His wellspring of rage is very deep and mysterious.
As well constructed as it is, there are a few too many coincidences in the story for it to be taken seriously. You expect good car chases, and there are some good car chases in the film, but it is more than just a car chase movie, not a lot more, but enough to make it interesting. This film rates a B.
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