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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Drive | Ryan Gosling, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Carey Mulligan | Review

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4_Chicks_Small Judy Thorburn

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Sure, there are some spectacular car racing scenes in Drive, but this film is more an intriguing, complex portrait of the man behind the wheel than the action packed thrills of watching fast cars.

Part romance, part violent crime drama, Drive is set in Los Angeles and stars Ryan Gosling as an unnamed movie stunt driver and mechanic by day, getaway driver for heists at night with one precise,  fixed rule, offering a five minute window for the criminals to complete their job and get into his car before driving away like he was never there.

Known only as the Driver, he doesn't talk much, is self contained and aloof, with his attention focused at whatever job is at hand. Safe to call him a silent but deadly guy with the potential for causing major harm if he is pushed to extreme as we eventually discover, but he prefers to keep a cool distance from everyone except for Shannon (Bryan Cranston) his boss/manager at the garage that appears to be his only friend. Shannon comes up with what he thinks is a brilliant plan of turning driver into a racing superstar with the financial backing of Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) a former movie producer, turned unsavory mobster (is there any other kind?) and his equally nasty partner in crime, Nino (Ron Perlman), owner of a pizzeria.

Things get complicated when Driver lets his guard down after he meets and begins to fall for Irene, the attractive next door neighbor (a delicate and vulnerable Carey Mulligan, bearing a striking resemblance to Michelle Williams,
Gosling's co-star in Blue Valentine) in his apartment building who works as a waitress. Though married with her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) doing time in prison,  Driver can't help but develop a strong bond with Irene and her young son Benecio (Kaden Leos) whom he feels the need to protect.  To what length that will take him comes into play soon after Standard is released from jail.  Though free from incarceration and wanting to go straight, Standard is in debt to underworld criminals and his family's life is threatened if he doesn't pay up. Unable to walk away from Irene and Benecio and leave well enough alone, Driver is pulled back into their life when he comes to the aid of the ex con and finds himself drawn deep into a million dollar heist that goes terribly wrong leading to more deadly repercussions.

From the moment he appears on screen in the opening heist, you can't take your eyes off of Gosling  who delivers one of the best performances of his career, with just a minimalist approach. Embodying a  cool Steve MacQueen-like persona, he gives a restrained, magnetic performance conveying emotions through his eyes and body language. There is little dialogue and yet the silent, long pauses and meaningful stares between Driver and Irene are so emotionally charged as to speak volumes.

What also works to the film's advantage is the entire superb supporting cast including Christina Hendricks (of TV's Mad Men) in a brief but memorable role as Blanche, the only female involved in the big heist.  A standout is Albert Brooks appearing like you have never seen the comedian/actor, playing against type, delivering a chilling, Oscar worthy performance as Bernie, the soft spoken, mobster, whose fake smile masks his true, sinister M.O.

Danish filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn (Bronson) working from a script by Hossein Amini (“The Wings of the Dove”) based on James Salliss novel of the same name, delivers a well crafted, highly stylized film injected with a European quality. There is action, but it is presented in due time, as the story gradually unfolds and tension builds. When graphic, bloody violence is shown, it is not gratuitous but story driven, applicable to the plot and, more shockingly

Beautifully executed, with a unique mix of tenderness and brutality, Drive also features a mesmerizing soundtrack, dynamite cinematography, and yes, some of the most exhilarating car racing scenes ever seen on the big screen that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Neversteering the wrong way, in its patient acceleration Drive promises some twists and turns as it picks up speed, while keeping your attention on the powerful ride all the way to the end.

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