Movie review: Drive (2011)

We lovers of noir don’t get a whole lot of bones thrown our way at the theater these days, so when Drive came out last fall to quite good reviews, I was excited. Unfortunately, its release coincided with the beginning of football season and the time of year in which I notoriously don’t do much besides watch football.

I was finally able to catch it on Blu-ray the other night to see if the hype was warranted. With minor caveats, it was.

Drive stars Ryan Gosling as a mechanic who is unnamed–his boss calls him the Kid, but that’s the only time anyone calls him anything. In addition to his duties at the shop, he supplements his income doing stunt driving for the movies and as a best-of-the-best getaway driver reminiscent of Jason Statham in The Transporter in role but completely different in tone.

Drive has much deeper similarities to Not Quite Parker film The Driver, enough that they can’t be a coincidence. There are obviously the titles and the main characters’ profession, but also the nameless main character, the LA setting, and the general tone of the thing. The plot is different, but the feel is definitely there.

The plot begins when the Kid befriends young mother Irene (Carey Mulligan), whose husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is in jail but soon to be released. Meanwhile, the Kid’s boss at the shop, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), is working with some low-rent mafiosos to fund a race car for the Kid, so that maybe they can use his skills to make some real money. These threads, of course, converge.

We don’t learn a lot about what makes the Kid tick, except for that the title of the film is as much about him as it is about what he does. Whatever it is he decides to do, he is driven both to do it right and to see it through to completion. This mostly-silent cypher could have been a disaster if miscast, but Gosling is stellar in conveying a menace that lurks just beneath his pretty-boy good looks. On the occasions when this menace is unleashed, he is utterly convincing. If he were ten years older and a bit more grizzled, he would make a great Parker, which I never would have thought walking in. Believable masculinity is a rarity in young actors these days, but Gosling’s got it.

The rest of the cast is just as good. I read several complaints that this film didn’t get any Oscar recognition for its performances, and I understand why people were complaining. It was robbed like a pawn shop.

The film only falters in two areas. The first is the ending, which, while not bad and definitely not an embarrassment, felt a little undercooked. They didn’t need to go over the top, but they could have and should have nursed a little more drama out of it.

The second is the music. The movie’s score is great, but for some reason there are three vocal numbers included that don’t fit the film at all. I had recently watched First Blood, where a dark, gritty, intense movie ends with an awful cheesy ’80s song over the end credits that kills the mood entirely. It wasn’t that bad in Drive, but it was pretty close and seemed almost as dated even though this film only came out six months ago. It was a strange creative decision, and one I don’t understand at all.

Put those quibbles aside, because they’re not that big of a deal. Drive is a fine contemporary noir, and anyone reading this site is almost certain to like it a lot.

(If you’ve seen Drive, let me know what you thought. Also tell me about the James Sallis novel upon which it’s based, which I have not yet read.)

Buy Drive (+ UltraViolet Digital Copy) [Blu-ray]

Buy Drive (Movie tie-in)