I watched my last modern noir of the year.
I like Drive — it’s stylish and well-crafted — but I don’t love it the way I might have hoped.
A mechanic, stunt car driver, and getaway driver (Ryan Gosling) falls for his married neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), and finds himself in a mess of trouble because of it.
1. Drive has an interesting sort of structure to it. The first ten minutes or so work really well, with a nice action sequence that draws us into the movie and a brief glimpse at our unnamed protagonist under pressure. We never learn a lot about the Driver, not where he comes from, not what he’s done, but I think you get a decent glimpse at what kind of man you’re dealing with fairly early on, and then again through several small moments throughout the film.
After the teaser, though, the pace of the film slows down considerably. If you came upon Drive maybe twenty minutes into the movie with no prior knowledge of the film, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching an indie romantic drama. The second half of the story is considerably more action packed and violent than the first. Obviously, I’m a bigger fan of the second half, but overall, I think the pacing of the film works fairly well. In particular, I like when the movie chooses not to show you things, like when we watch Irene apply makeup as the phone rings, but we don’t actually see her pick it up. It’s all small stuff, but it helps give the movie a sort of quiet, sparse quality that I enjoy.
2. As always, though, I’m not sure I’m entirely sold on Irene and the Driver’s romance, mostly because Irene has absolutely no character.
Carey Mulligan is perfectly fine as Irene, but unfortunately, Irene herself is such an archetype that it’s impossible to give a damn about her one way or the other. She has next to no personality and is really only around to be in danger and thus give our male characters motivation; that is her one and only function in the entire plot. For bonus cliche points, she’s also a mother, making her doubly necessary to protect. If she at least said something funny or profound or interesting in any way, I might be able to look past this, but Irene doesn’t have much in the way of dialogue in this movie, as her romance with the Driver is entirely based on gazing into each other’s eyes for uncomfortably long periods of time.
(In fairness, the silence between their characters does evoke a certain romantic mood and fits the general tone of the film. But in real life, it would be awkward as hell, all . . . what? Do I have something on my face? Hello? Seriously, man. The HELL is wrong with you?)
3. The movie has a stellar cast; other than Gosling and Mulligan, we also have Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, and Christina Hendricks. (Although I feel the need to point out here that some of these people don’t get nearly as much screen time as I’d like.) I think Brooks is probably the standout of the supporting cast, although I like Bryan Cranston quite a bit too. He brings a certain energy to the screen, even when his character doesn’t actually have that much to do.
4. Certain scenes in this movie are also creepy as fuck.
Okay, well, this scene anyway. Part of it’s the spooky ass mask pictured above, and part of it’s the music that’s playing the entire time. The soundtrack here is very interesting: the majority of it has a super retro 80’s feel, despite the fact that none of it’s actually 80’s music, and definitely helps give the movie a certain singular voice. Drive is an entirely different movie with a different soundtrack behind it. (I guess you can say that for any movie, but it feels especially true in this case.)
Other noteworthy moments: any of the car chase sequences, everything that happens at the motel, the big showdown, and the Suddenly-Less-Romantic Elevator scene.
5. I wish I had more to tell you, but I actually don’t know if I have much to say about this one. I’ll talk a little more about the plot and certain things I liked in the Spoiler Section, but I don’t have a particularly deep analysis for you guys because I just don’t feel super passionate about it one way or the other. It’s an interesting piece of filmmaking, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more work by Nicolas Winding Refn, but the story itself leaves me a little cold, and I think my problems with Irene (and probably the lack of interesting women in general) are a big part of that.
First: I don’t know if it’s a Fail, exactly, but there is certainly a Netflix Misdirect here: His [the Driver’s] newfound peace is shattered, however, when her [Irene’s] violent husband is released from prison.
It’s not entirely untrue, but the word that’s tripping me up is ‘violent.’ Standard (Oscar Isaac) is an ex-con, but while one scene implies that violence could be in the near future if the Driver and Irene carry on with their ‘special friendship’, Isaac never hurts anybody that we see in the film, seems remorseful about his past criminal activities, and only commits the pawn shop robbery in order to protect his wife and son. (Because again, that’s all they’re there for.) The way this summary is worded, you’d think Standard was the chief antagonist, which is just not true.
The basic story goes like this: Driver falls in wuv with Irene and bonds with her cute, shark-prejudiced son, Benicio. Unfortunately, Standard is released from prison, putting a stop to their near silent romance. Worse, he owes money, and if he doesn’t pay back, his family will be hurt. So the Driver negotiates on his behalf and agrees to help with one last job in order to free Standard from his debt. Along for the ride is Blanche (Christina Hendricks), whose only real job in this movie is to wear high heels and look scared.
The job goes bad fast. Blanche and the Driver get away with the money, but Standard is killed at the scene. Also, they end up stealing about $960,000 more than expected, but the news reports that the robbery was unsuccessful. The Driver gets intimidating and rough with Blanche fast, reminding the audience that no matter how helpful he is when his attractive neighbors have car trouble, this is an unrepentantly violent man. Blanche confesses that she and some goon were in on a double-cross, although she didn’t think anyone was supposed to die. Shortly thereafter, Blanche gets her head blown off.
It’s a good, shocking scene, and I don’t mind that Blanche dies, but I was hopeful that Christina Hendricks would have a little more to do, especially because she and the entirely boring Irene are the only female characters in this whole movie. If you read my reviews with any regularity, it’s possible that you’re tired of hearing me complain about this, but I’ve got to tell you, you’re probably not as tired as I am of writing about it. I’m exhausted of this bullshit male-to-female ratio in action, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and horror stories. These are my favorite genres. It would be neat to find some representation in them. (And if that’s how I feel as a white woman, that must go, like, quadruple for women of color.)
Okay. The Driver is wounded but escapes and eventually finds out that Nino (Ron Perlman) is behind the setup. He tries to return the money to Nino, but Nino would rather just kill him, given the opportunity. And after the Driver’s buddy, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), makes the well-meaning but ultimately pretty stupid decision to tell Nino who the Driver is, Nino hires a guy to do just do that. Of course, the Driver kills the guy, but now everybody is in danger, including Shannon. Nino’s partner, Bernie (Albert Brooks), is the one who kills him.
This isn’t particularly surprising because Shannon had “Dead Meat” written on his forehead from pretty much the second he showed up on screen, but it’s also especially not nice because Shannon and Bernie go back a ways, could even be considered friends. They’re shaking hands when Bernie slices deep up Shannon’s arm, severing the hell out of his arteries. “Don’t worry,” Bernie says immediately after doing this. “Don’t worry. That’s it. It’s done. There’s no pain. It’s over, it’s over.” Like most of the violent moments in this movie, it’s a pretty great scene.
The Suddenly-Less-Romantic Elevator scene is another good one.
Sometimes, I’m critical of female characters who are like, “Oh noes, my man killed someone for totally justifiable reasons, IT’S LIKE I NEVER EVEN KNEW HIM,” but here, I feel that stepping out of the elevator was a pretty appropriate reaction. In fact, this is probably the closest I come to actually liking Irene.
After finding Shannon dead, The Driver kills Nino by ramming his car off a cliff and shortly thereafter drowning him in the ocean. (I still maintain that the scene right before, where the Driver’s standing outside Nino’s restaurant watching him, is one of the creepiest things I’ve seen all year.) He then calls up Bertie and alludes to the story of the scorpion and the frog, which immediately made me groan because I’m so tired of hearing people recite that story. I mean, it’s a decent fable and all, and I understand why it’s popular, but I’m so damn tired of hearing it.
So I was deeply and pleasantly surprised when the Driver didn’t proceed to tell the entire story for the audience members who haven’t heard it before. (Sorry, dudes. But Google will help you out.) The one-line allusion quickly became my favorite quote in the whole movie. (The fact that the Driver is wearing a jacket with a scorpion on his back is also a nice touch.)
The Driver and Bertie set up a dinner meeting, and I really like how the scene plays out. It’s like a less sexy, more violent version of That One Scene Everyone Remembers from Out of Sight. Their negotiation of sorts is intercut with scenes of the Driver handing Bertie the money outside the restaurant. Bertie immediately stabs the Driver with one of his carefully cleaned knives, but doesn’t do a good enough job of it because the Driver stabs Bertie right back. The Driver has better aim, and he leaves Bertie dead on the ground, next to his money.
The movie ends with Irene knocking on the Driver’s door to no answer, and the Driver (presumably still bleeding) driving away to destinations unknown. It’s a fine ending as far as endings go — I think I’m glad the two don’t get together — but once the movie was over, my immediate reaction was, Okay, so, what’s next?
It’s possible I might like this movie more on repeat viewings, especially because the more I think about the film, the more I like specific moments and scenes, but as a whole, I can’t shake the thought that the story is lacking something, and as of right now, I continue to feel a little disappointed with it.
Driver: “You know the story about the scorpion and the frog? Your friend Nino didn’t make it across the river.”
Shannon: “A lot of guys mess around with married women, but you’re the only one I know who robs a joint just to pay back the husband.”
Standard: “Do you want to hear about how Mommy and me met?”
Standard: “Yeah? Okay. We were at a party, and she was nineteen years old.”
Standard: “You weren’t seventeen.”
Irene: “I was.”
Standard: “Wow. So it was illegal. All right. So I illegally walked over to a seventeen-year-old girl.”
(Bernie sticks his hand out to shake. Driver does not shake it — in a nice bit of foreshadow I forgot to mention before)
Driver: “My hands are a little dirty.”
Bernie: “So are mine.”
Stylistic and enjoyable, but not quite as Fist Pump Awesome as I’d hoped it would be.
Never try to explain to the bad guys that your friend has their money, particularly if the bad guys didn’t even know that you or your friend were involved. You’re trying to sell them on your buddy’s good intentions, which is all very noble, but bad guys don’t care about good intentions, and such a call can only lead to your demise.