Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Bryan Cranston, Drive was released in 2011 and it’s weird trying to describe this movie. It’s about a Hollywood stuntman driver who’s also a getaway driver for hire. He gets involved with the mob, kills some people, tries to get a girlfriend but fails, and has to leave town. That’s the gist of it. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? That’s because it really isn’t, despite the impressive action scenes. Let’s dive into the review.
As always, we will consider the good and the bad of this film, plus a side-discussion on pretentiousness. There will be spoilers.
The visuals of Drive is fantastic. From the opening scene it is evident the director cares very much about presentation, and a lot of effort has been put into creating a visually engaging film. Every shot has something going on, and every angle, every aspect of colouring, shading, lighting, and object placement feels deliberate and meaningful. It’s an interesting result; our eyes are always looking at something, and this keeps us paying attention even during slow moments, which ended up being much appreciated (we’ll get to the bad later). At the risk of sounding immature, one scene I really liked was when Gosling’s character is maiming a gang member in a room full of strippers (?). The oddness of the scene created a visually unique scenario, and the experience was akin to looking at some strange, avant-garde piece of art.
One of the problems of the film is the dryness of the characters, but Bryan Cranston’s character, Shannon, stood out as particularly refreshing and a much needed deviance. His character is actually talkative, his moral compass ambiguous (at times), and he generally cares for the protagonist but is clumsy and ultimately still a crook. Unfortunately Shannon stands alone as the only noteworthy character.
The film also does violence very well. Most of the film is relaxed and quiet, making the action scenes all the more memorable and shocking. The first time it happened Christina Hendricks’ head got blown off and my jaw dropped. The method of shocking violence in a film that’s mostly chill and laid back doesn’t work every time, but Drive pulls it off perfectly.
The final compliment I’m willing to pay this film is that it has a pretty groovy soundtrack. The songs are a slow, new-age, experimental type of trance, and fits right in with how the film is trying to present itself, and it just sounded good.
Cue the record scratch.
The biggest problem with this film is that it never convinces its audience to care about its characters. The first third of the film is loaded with awkward scenes of silence between Gosling and Mulligan as the narrative tries, but fails, to establish an old-fashioned type of traditional romance. Now, old-fashioned romance isn’t bad; in fact, I’d probably be the first to espouse it. By old-fashioned I mean that their romance is simple, driven by nothing more than mutual and mostly silent attraction. No impulsive sex, no arguing, no passive-aggressiveness or acting crazy. Just good old-fashioned love. The film, however, expects us to believe there is something like that growing between the two characters via moments of looking into each other’s eyes and coincidentally bumping into each other out in public, and it doesn’t work. Even worse, these moments makes the characters come off as bland and awkward; they feel like two of the most introverted social outcasts ever. Would you want to be stuck in a room with two such people for an hour and a half? Introverted characters can be interesting, because even they can initiate action (sometimes even passively or unintentionally), but that doesn’t apply to Driver and Irene. Instead they shuffle about and drag their scenes out until Irene’s boyfriend/husband shows up to get the plot moving again.
We never learn how the Driver became the Driver, or his true motivations for doing what he does. The worst part is that he is basically the same character by the end as he was in the beginning, so far as we can tell. Very few stories can be interesting without having it’s character undergo a transformation, and Drive certainly isn’t one of them.
This dryness applies to just about every other character, excluding Cranston’s and Irene’s ex-convict boyfriend/husband. The villains were cookie-cutter mobsters, and while the performances were serviceable, the characters themselves were unbelievable, though we can’t blame the film too much. Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola has set the bar too high in terms of presenting realistic mobster characters; everyone else pales in comparison. Nevertheless, Drive‘s mobsters felt showy and unintelligent, and that’s a bad thing especially in a film that’s already running short on interesting characters.
The reason I think this movie fails to be entertaining is that it sacrificed character development for presentation and style points. It goes above and beyond with the visuals and cinematic experience, but the primary reason people watch movies is to be entertained, and having a mediocre (and slow-moving) plot as well as neglecting to make your protagonist interesting and mutable is the opposite of being entertaining.
Thus it was that by the end of the film that I felt this movie tried too hard to be artsy. Careful camerawork and intricate scene construction is probably very interesting in a cinema studies classroom, but less so in a theatre or when you’re sitting on your couch at home, unless you also have an interesting story with interesting characters, and Drive had the potential for a novel story (not many movies focus on the getaway driver), but the Driver inexplicably goes from being a driver to a blood-thirsty avenger, nullifying its one distinctive aspect.
Producers and directors have the prerogative to build their movie in any way they see fit. We, the audience, have the right to expect our time to be used up in a meaningful way, whether for educational or entertainment purposes. Unfortunately, Drive fails to fulfill either, and thus the film ends up being a waste of time.
I do not recommend Drive unless you are cinema studies student. There are better movies out there that accomplish what Drive tries to do, and by that I mean better mobster, romance, drama and artistic movies. It has a surprisingly high rating on IMDB, but the fact that it doesn’t get mentioned very often is deserved. It’s a low-key film that is more aware of itself than of its audience.
This has been a gamobo review. Thanks for reading.