By Tye Van Horn
Elm Staff Writer
I entered the movie theater to see “Drive” with no expectations, no background information, not even with knowledge of the cast or director. All I knew was the title and that it was considered an “action” movie.
As the lights dimmed, an overview of the city and all its complex routes danced across the screen, slowly fading to our nameless protagonist (played by Ryan Gosling), calmly weaving through the night streets of Los Angeles with a practiced eye. He subsequently picks up two characters who could be described as “shifty,” possibly because of the ski masks covering their faces.
After waiting five minutes (he times it with a watch, one second over and he leaves them) for their nearly botched robbery he confidently evades police, not with traditional gun-filled car chases, but with a more subtle and strangely artistic approach: hiding in shadows and taking alternate routes whilst listening in on the police radio. Even as the music starts to up in tempo, it’s clear that the main character doesn’t even have an increase of heart rate, carefully speeding and slowing with masterful precision as he evades the police amongst ever growing opposition. The scene ends with him driving to a baseball stadium and fading in with the crowd.
This opening encapsulates the extremely low-key and vibrant aesthetic that the rest of the movie never strays from. Nicolas Winding Refn directed with clear goals in mind and succeeded with flying colors. The city has a real sense of life, and its sterile neo-commercialism brings to mind the video game “Mirrors Edge,” with the surroundings as much of a character as the protagonist (referred to only as “Driver”).
Gosling portrays a character more reserved than anything else. He appears quiet, focused, and mysterious. In fact, he hardly speaks throughout the film–this makes the audience hang on to every word. He falls for a neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), whose husband returns from prison just weeks later. Even more unfortunate is that the husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), owes some thugs money and Driver must help him out in order to protect Standard’s family.
Needless to say, things go wrong and the movie suddenly takes off at an almost jarring pace. The subtlety evident before is juxtaposed against visceral violence that doesn’t hold back. The car chases are intense without being gaudy, and a side of the subdued Driver that no one would expect is revealed.
The sombre tone of “Drive” causes such intense moments to be all the more shocking, especially in comparison to the average action movie that never lets up and turns out to be tiring. Every moment feels like it pulls the plot forward (besides one odd choice to make the main character wear a scary mask as he kills the man who killed his friend).
The use of colors in particular worked well: the hero wore only white and drove only white vehicles, symbolizing how his mute and almost childlike character gives him a sort of purity. The use of red for Irene symbolizes the blood that surrounds her as Driver does anything and everything for her. Finally, the villains generally wore black.
The other supporting actors really added a lot of dimension to such a reserved film: Bryan Cranston plays a wheezing spineless mentor and Albert Brooks plays a dementedly evil incarnation of greed and treachery.
The sound track has an interesting ambient twist and is, like the movie, either integrally evident or non-existent.
By the end, I felt that the movie sometimes lacked in depth, but was masterfully shot and a blast to watch. I would not say it was an action movie but more a love story, and about what a man is willing to do for that love. A must-see for those who have the attention span for the slow parts, “Drive” makes you think, which is rare for anything willing to call itself an action film.
The movie’s best quote: “How ‘bout this, you shut your mouth or I’ll kick your teeth down your throat and I’ll shut it for you.”
And its worst? In reference to his name, Irene asks Standard: “Do they have the deluxe edition?”