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Drive - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+
Music: B+

Drive is nothing profound, but it presents a unique cinematic voice in director Nicolas Winding Refn -- whom Ryan Gosling personally chose for this film. If you're looking for something different, here it is.

This is a movie that never makes the obvious choice, and takes its time about it. You might think that a movie called Drive, with its main character working by day as a stunt car driver and by night as a crime getaway driver, would be packed to the gills with thrilling car chases. Not exactly. Oh, yes, they're there -- but they have to be earned by the story first.

Refn and Gosling both strike the right note from the very beginning with a sequence involving Driver (that, apparently, is his name) getting criminals away from the scene of a crime. And instead of heart-pumping action and car crashes, we get genuine suspense. Driver turns on a police radio scanner and monitors where the police are, and how close they are to gaining on him. He is the epitome of cool. He hardly sweats. He makes one clever choice after another, almost always driving like any regular driver -- he's blending in. He has a couple of close calls, then takes advantage of an opportunity that makes it impossible for him or his passengers to get caught.

This, for the most part, is the way the rest of Drive plays out. Although Driver eventually loses his cool, and in essence turns the story into one of revenge, this is a guy who even when he's lost his temper always has tightly-wound control of himself.

As a character, he's a complete mystery. We are treated to no back story. That's fine. Here, that works. But then, this deliberately closed-off loner meets a neighbor in his apartment building (Carey Mulligan), and develops a fondness for both her and her little boy. Irene's husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), comes home from prison, and appears intent on redeeming himself. He becomes aware of Irene's new friend, and Irene seems unsure of how he might react -- but he is gracious. Standard even allows Driver to offer his services when Standard is roped into robbing a store and given no choice in the matter. Standard doesn't fare well in all of this.

The supporting players are many cast against type. Albert Brooks is the opposite of funny here, as the guy torn between his loyalty to a partner (Ron Pearlman) having done something dangerously stupid and this driver he's been convinced to sponsor as a racer. Mad Men's Christina Hendricks has a surprisingly small role that's about as far as she could get from Joan Harris, as a woman involved in the robbery a bit in over her head.

When things go wrong, Driver gets mad. But Drive goes down this road at a steady pace, with many scenes deliberately stretched out in favor of an often dream-like mood thanks to skillfully applied slow motion and almost ethereal, synth-heavy music and a score by Cliff Martinez. It's all part of an unusually satisfying amount of character development, particularly for a movie where the main character has no discernible background.

Virtually every actor is solid here, but Gosling is excellent. He makes Driver his own enigma, one moment offering a friendly face -- he offers a surprising number of warm smiles -- and the next smashing a guy's face in with his boot.

There's some pretty graphic violence here, by the way. Rare is the movie that the R rating is clearly for the violence alone. Yes, there's a bit of language. There's no sex whatsoever. But the violence was enough to make me turn my head or cover my face more than once.

That’s just one of many elements of surprise here, though -- it's pretty far from what the average movie-goer would assume based on its title, its apparent premise, and its star. This is all to its credit. Although it does take a tad too much time wrapping itself up in its own "moodiness," this is a rare, fresh entertainment. And there are a few gripping scenes involving driving, or at least cars. But the great thing about it is that when these scenes happen, they serve only the story -- not simple audience titillation. Drive is not just an action thrill ride. It's much more.

Ryan Gosling (with Oscar Isaac) gets behind the wheel in DRIVE.

Overall: B+
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