You always think of the man in the getaway car as the wimp. Why else is he supposed to keep the engine running instead of helping with the job? Well, not anymore. Ryan Gosling completely demolishes that myth with Drive. It’s a neo-noir of sorts, but don’t get the wrong idea. This isn’t your conventional Hollywood action flick. Albert Brook’s corrupt thug sans eyebrows says he used to back sexy European action films and that’s ironically enough what Drive is. There’s a new age electronic score to match the stylized action. Silky smooth slo-mo mixed with golden illumination of the characters and the L.A. nightscape.
Although he’s really a stunt driver and spends his spare time working as a mechanic for the shop owner (Bryan Cranston), the Kid (Gosling) works jobs on the side as a getaway car driver, and he’s the best of the best. He proves it in the opening minutes, perfectly timing his escape with the conclusion of a Clippers game. It makes disappearing into the night that much easier.
He keeps things in check, keeps his cards close to his body, and at times reminds me of Alain Delon in Le Samourai. He’s not quite so icy cool, almost serene, and yet that can disappear in a flash. So still, so slight of word and movement, and yet behind the wheel, he has so much purpose. He doesn’t use a gun. His methods are more brutal, and he only uses them when absolutely necessary. Such a role gives me a new found respect for Ryan Gosling. He really does seem to have the true ability to take on some interesting roles of varying degrees and intensities.
All the characters around him are not necessarily fully developed entities on their own, but they function as more of an essence, developing this stylized world. Carey Mulligan is the aloof woman next door with the far-off gaze and quiet demeanor. There is an aura around her much like the Driver, maybe because they don’t talk much. There’s a mystery to them. Oscar Isaac and Christina Hendricks have relatively short screen time, but they play pivotal roles in the film and they lend credence to the story because even if they’re no good, we have at least a little empathy towards them. And then Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman are real crud of the earth who we don’t mind seeing suffer. It may not be a nice thing to say, but it’s undoubtedly the truth. The Driver seems outside of this fray at first, but he ends up getting involved in it whether it’s because of Irene or her husband’s botched robbery attempt. It becomes his business and it proves cataclysmic.
Aside from Le Samourai, there’s a bit of Bullitt here thanks to the ultra sleek car chases, and maybe even some Point Blank, another film that functions as a dreamy, unconventional thriller. We never see the inside of whatever jobs are being pulled, but it actually builds the tension as we sit on the outside waiting with the driver. He’s all business as the audience sits sweating it.
What this film has and what I am not necessarily a proponent of, is the brutality and stylized gore. It fits the overall tone of Drive, but it does rub against me rather abrasively in a way that seems to make a spectacle of violence. That’s something that I don’t want. But then what is that saying about me? Do I find violence more palatable when it looks like an ugly and vile act? Yes, certainly, but I think I like it best when it is implied because that in itself seems perhaps even more stylized, and far less offensive.
But nevertheless, this story that parallels the fable of the scorpion and the frog is an engaging, albeit jarring ride. You can help someone, you can want no part of them, but they will come right back and sting you because it’s in their nature. This is a story of relationships, of destruction, and a man who kicks it into high gear.