September 19, 2011 by Vinnie Leduc
The rise of Ryan Gosling, an Oscar nominee fresh off last year’s depress-fest Blue Valentine and this summer’s popular rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love., continues his critically acclaimed run in director Nicholas Winding Refn’s first U.S. film, Drive. Riding a career-defining phase that resumes next month in his pairing with George Clooney in The Ides of March, Gosling plays the pivotal protagonist who’s an occasional stunt driver by day and an underground getaway man by night. Neo-noirish Drive, an art house product that’s refreshingly contrasting to brainless blockbusters, is like an anti-Transporter (ughhhh) and anti-Fast Five in many ways. Instead of being an action-centric summer spectacle (which it originally was intended as), Drive is a CGI-free, character-driven vehicle that’ll have most audiences clutching the edges of their seats.
I’m not much of an ’80s child despite my birth year, but I liked Refn’s use of a soundtrack and score (yet another great one from former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Cliff Martinez after last week’s Contagion) that pay homage to the decade. What I really loved is how Refn portrays Los Angeles. Drive‘s story technically includes the stereotypical Hollywood side of SoCal life, but it’s more intrinsically involved in presenting its crime drama against the backdrop of a more unglamorous and bleaker view of the City of Angels.
For example, the thrilling introduction is set with an NBA game in the background, but it’s with the hometown Clippers, a team some Californians aren’t even aware of, instead of with the famed Lakers, who often enjoy instant and universal recognition from people who don’t care about basketball.
As the soft-spoken and few-worded main character, Ryan Gosling is like a modern hybrid of previous generations’ Clint Eastwood and James Dean. He’s surrounded by a very good supporting cast that includes Oscar nominees Albert Brooks and Carey Mulligan, Emmy winner Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Ron Perlman, Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks, and Sucker Punch‘s Oscar Isaac. Some audiences may find the pacing too slow, and Drive‘s action is occasional but stunning. What it lacks in frequency it compensates for in violent grittiness. It also features a short but sweet car chase reminiscent of BMW’s The Hire series.
Last night I had the forced displeasure of seeing I Don’t Know How She Does It (by the way, my one-word review for that chick flick “comedy” is the second word of its title). If your significant other tries to pull the same thing and asks you to see it, tell her you don’t care how she does it and watch Drive instead. Drive gets 3.5 out of 5 stars or B or Good.