Dave White
Drive Review

Dave's Rating:

4.0

To Live and Die in L.A.

You'll either really love or really hate Drive, and your opinion will probably be shaped by whether or not you watch the trailer before you watch the movie. That's because the trailer is selling you something you're not exactly going to get. It's pumped-up, that two minutes and however many seconds. It suggests a "thrill ride" of muscle cars, bad dudes, testosterone, violence, crime and Christina Hendricks. So let me tell you the truth:

1. It's actually a very quiet movie. Ryan Gosling, as the nameless mechanic/movie stunt-car guy/robbery getaway driver-for-hire (he likes late-model Chevy Impalas for their ubiquity and invisibility), is monosyllabic for the entire running time. He's the kind of man who, when asked any question, gives the question-asker a Mona Lisa smirk and a five-second staredown before saying, "Yep." He's not a wisecracking Die Hard Willis, he's more like the enigmatic "Driver" played by James Taylor in 1971's existential drag racing movie Two-Lane Blacktop.

2. The equally whispery Carey Mulligan is the female lead here, not Christina Hendricks, whose part is pivotal but still very small. But Christina Hendricks is on TV and therefore more recognizable than the Oscar-nominated Mulligan and, well, there you go. Not that Mulligan isn't just as pivotal, but I saw this film two nights ago and I already can't remember anything she said.

3. If the trailer's quick cuts of Gosling's vengeance, a parade of one-good-man-against-the-crime-bosses beats, conjures in your mind something resembling the extended, acrobatic feats of ass-kickery usually on display in any Jason Statham movie, then stop right there. Gosling's character gets stabby only at a tipping point, a slowly simmering boil heated up on a burner created by nonstop darkness and Cliff Martinez's complementary, pulsing, Daft Punk-parties-with-Wang-Chung-on-codeine score.

Now that you know the truth, you should also know that it's great: a minimalist, '80s-inspired Los-Angeles-loner-by-night dream of stoplights, headlights, moonlight, window glare, satin jackets and extremely cool knives. Director Nicolas Winding Refn (who also made the gut-kicking Pusher trilogy, Bronson and Valhalla Rising) is interested in masculine brutality and he explores it via a series of men who behave violently based on one kind of personal honor code or other, even if that code is one that exists only in their own crazy skull.

Here, Gosling wants what he wants not only for himself, but for the good of the people who've bothered to take notice of his humanity. When Mulligan's young son asks him how a shark can be "a good guy," Gosling has no response, but when it's time to demonstrate the complicated answer to just how that can be, he doesn't hesitate.

Think of it like this: the summer began with an awesome car cartoon called Fast Five and has finally come to a close with a moody, grown-up meditation on what it really means to ruin that much property and life, one where the cars -- and their human counterparts -- are either anonymous, under repair, abandoned in lots or completely destroyed.

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