|FILM DISTRICT, RICHARD FOREMAN|
Ryan Gosling is shown in a scene from "Drive."
"Drive" is proof action movies need not be a deafening assault on the senses nor a nonstop barrage of explosions and feats that defy the laws of physics. "Drive" is an action movie with a brain, that allows its characters to use theirs, that spends more time focusing on its characters than the action around them.
The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is at the movie's center. He's a taciturn protagonist in the tradition of Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name; one even wonders if his employer ("Breaking Bad's" Bryan Cranston), who owns an auto repair shop, knows his name. He also works as a stunt driver for Hollywood movies and moonlights as a wheelman.
He doesn't carry a gun or go inside to take an active role in his clients' heists. He drives. He gives his clients a five-minute window to get the job done while he waits in the car, his watching ticking away.
When it's time for the getaway, it isn't all about speed. The Driver is smarter than his police pursuers. He knows the terrain—pause under an overpass to elude a helicopter, slip into a parking garage at a basketball game, and the job is done.
A neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), catches the Driver's attention; it feels like this is a rare occurrence. They appear to form a connection, while an even stronger bond develops between the Driver and Irene's young son, Benicio (Kaden Leos). Irene's husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is due home from prison in a week, putting a strain on these budding relationships.
Standard got involved with some bad people while behind bars, and the Driver agrees to help get them off his back, thus protecting Irene and Benicio. It doesn't go as planned, blood is spilled, and it all leads back to Nino (Ron Perlman), a crime lord who works out of a pizzeria in a strip mall, and Bernie Rose (a scary Albert Brooks), a movie producer who's even more sinister than Nino.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn works with silences, adopting a hypnotic, contemplative tone. The supporting cast, which also includes "Mad Men's" Christina Hendricks, provides enough personality to balance Gosling's tight-lipped, inward performance.
When it comes, the action is sudden and brutal—a jarring experience instead of the fetishized violence of so many other movies. I could not detect any digital effects enhancing the stunts, which have a real weight and visceral quality to them.
"Drive" is not the "Fast and Furious" knockoff you might think it is based on the advertising. It is far more artistic and thoughtful than any of those films could ever hope to be. Consider it a thinking man's action movie.
Greg's Grade: A
(Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity. 100 minutes.)