CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DRIVE (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: A silver Chevy Impala parked on the street. MICHAEL ARRUDA is at the wheel. Two thugs sit in the back seat.)
MICHAEL ARRUDA (to thugs): You have five minutes. Everything that happens within that five minutes, I’m yours. After that, you’re on your own. Now go.
(Thugs put on bright red hats, grab their pizza boxes, and dash out of the car. They each race to a separate house.)
MA (to camera): Now, that’s what I call an efficient pizza delivery service! If these guys don’t make it back to the car within five minutes, they walk home, without pay, tips included. And if they give me any grief (flashes gun) they go home in a body bag, or if we’re out of bags, a giant pizza box. Either way, they’re not going home happy, since they’ll be dead.
(Another car, this one a big, black Cadillac pulls next to the Chevy Impala. L.L. SOARES is at the wheel, and two even bigger THUGS sit in the back seat of this car as well.)
L.L. SOARES (to his THUGS): Okay, you have— two minutes.
THUG # 1: Two? You said five before?
LS: Well, I changed my mind. Hey, you dummies going to sit there and argue, or are you going to do the job? The clock’s ticking,
(THUGS move to exit the car, but find the doors are locked.)
THUGS: What the—?
LS: You didn’t think I was going to make this easy on you, did you? Hey, if you work for me, you gotta earn it!
THUG # 2: Earn it? We can’t get out of the car!
LS: Two big strong apes like you, and you can’t get out of a car? I don’t think you guys are the real deal. Maybe you ought to go into accounting. (Pulls out a huge magnum and aims it at thugs): Can you get out of the car now?
(THUGS kick open doors and jump out of car. They race onto the lawn and tackle the pizza delivery thugs, sending pizza and dollar bills flying everywhere. The four thugs begin to kick the living daylights out of each other.)
MA (rolls down window and addresses LS): Two minutes? You always have to try to one-up me, don’t you?
LS: Not only that, my guys have been instructed to steal your pizzas and deliver them. So we don’t even have to spend money on pizza dough. No overhead.
MA: You realize, this means war!
LS: Bring it on, Pizza Boy!
MA: That’s Pizza MAN to you!
LS: No, PIZZA MAN is a bad Bill Maher movie from 1991.
(MA steps on gas, and the Chevy peels out , racing onto the road, and at the same time, LS steps on his gas pedal, and suddenly both cars are racing down the road at incredible speeds.)
MA (to LS): Hey! While we’re driving, this might be a good time to review this week’s movie, DRIVE (2011).
LS: Sure. Why don’t you go first? I don’t want to crash. (Barely misses running over a pedestrian)
MA: What? You can’t drive and review a movie at the same time?
LS: I can do better than that! (LS is suddenly driving, texting, and talking on a cell phone all at the same time.)
MA: Show off! Anyway, today we’re reviewing DRIVE, the new action thriller starring Ryan Gosling.
Gosling plays a character known simply as The Driver, which reminded me immediately of a 1970s movie, THE DRIVER (1978) in which Ryan O’Neal also played a character named The Driver who also drove getaway cars, but the thing I remember most—and liked the most— in that movie was Bruce Dern being cast against type as The Detective, the guy who’s out to catch The Driver.
LS: Maybe Dern stood out because Ryan O’Neal was never much of an actor. I know Ryan Gosling could act circles around him.
MA: Anyway, back to this Driver. Gosling’s Driver drives getaway cars when he’s not working as a stunt driver in the movies or as a mechanic at a local garage for his friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston).
LS: Where does he find the time?
MA: In the film’s stylish pre-credit sequence, we learn exactly how The Driver operates. He gives his associates five minutes to pull off the job, and if they make it back to him in five minutes, he’ll drive them, and if they don’t, he’s gone. And once he drives, he’s one cool cucumber, and, as his friend Shannon describes him, he’s never seen anyone as gifted behind the wheel.
When he’s not working, The Driver can’t help but notice his very cute neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her little boy, who live in the apartment next to him. They become friends, and soon they start spending lots of time together, and it’s obvious that The Driver and Irene have feelings for each other, even though she’s married, and her husband’s in prison. When her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns home from prison, he finds that he can’t shake his past, and suddenly his family’s life is threatened if he doesn’t do another job. The Driver offers to help Standard pull off the job in order to protect Irene and her son.
Meanwhile, The Driver’s buddy and employer Shannon makes a deal with a local “businessman”(read “loan shark”) named Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks, in a deliciously dark performance) to borrow money from Rose in order to pay for a race car to be driven by The Driver. Rose and his partner Nino (Ron Perlman) are cold-hearted, brutal men who don’t take anything very lightly.
These two storylines cross when Standard’s robbery attempt goes wrong, and The Driver suddenly finds himself having to take on Rose and Nino in order to protect Irene and her son, as well as himself.
LS: Don’t look now, but here come the police!
(Two black and white police cars are suddenly behind them in high speed pursuit.)
MA: This is what I’m talking about! (Steps on gas and car speeds up even faster. LS accelerates his car as well.)
Anyway, I liked DRIVE a lot. While I called this one an action thriller, it’s really not in the traditional sense of the term. It doesn’t have massive explosions, elaborate gun battles, and beefed up heroes running around kicking the crap out of the bad guys. This one is much more stylish and subtle than all that, and I found it better for it.
The exciting pre-credit sequence captures the feel of this movie right away. The Driver is a man of few words, and he operates as if he’s an extension of the car. There’s something quiet about these scenes. You feel as if you’re inside the car with him, as you hear the engine sounds from the inside rather than the outside.
As a man of few words, The Driver doesn’t do a whole lot of talking with Irene, yet they share strong chemistry, and their relationship works. I believed in their feelings for each other. Granted, a lot of the time spent in the movie on their relationship is slow-paced, but the entire film has a deliberate pace, and so this didn’t bother me all that much.
LS: Gosling is so good that he speaks volumes with very few words. Despite the fact that The Driver is so taciturn, he communicates just fine. Although, you do wonder sometimes what is going through that mind of his. Which makes it all the more unpredictable.
MA: Once The Driver offers to help Standard, and things don’t go as planned, the movie takes off and never looks back, hitting high hear and remaining there. There are some really intense scenes, including a really cool car chase scene, as you would expect, and also some suspenseful fight scenes. The movie also becomes more brutally graphic as it goes along, building more and more tension all the way to its ending, which I found satisfying.
LS (licks lips): Oh yeah, the violence is great in this one.
MA: I really enjoyed the way Nicolas Winding Refn directed this one. I thought it was stylish from start to finish. The car chase scenes were well done, and the violence was sufficiently disturbing but not gratuitous.
I thought the screenplay by Hossein Arnin, based on a book by James Sallis, was excellent, as it also contributed to the style of this movie. The dialogue isn’t the standard action movie dialogue, and these characters aren’t stock action movie characters either. When Standard first meets The Driver, and confronts him about spending time with his wife and son while he was in prison, a lesser movie would have had Standard threaten The Driver, saying something like “stay away from my wife,” but he doesn’t. Yet, you still know he’s uncomfortable and unhappy about the relationship, just by the way he looks.
LS: The guy who wrote the original book, James Sallis, is a really good writer whose style seems cinematic by itself. I’m not surprised it translated so well to the screen. I’m just glad that there was a decent screenwriter who didn’t screw it up.
MA: When Standard is roughed up by some thugs, and The Driver asks him who did this to him, Standard replies, “Why? What are you going to do? Beat them up for me?” Which made me chuckle because I was thinking the same thing. There was something very refreshing about this script.
I also liked that the story was unpredictable. I wasn’t really sure where this story was going or what was going to happen and this remained true all the way down to the film’s final scene. That doesn’t happen very often.
LS: There’s a lot about this movie that isn’t business as usual. Another example is the relationship between The Driver and Irene. Not once do we see them in a hot and heavy sex scene, yet we completely buy that they love each other. Normally this would piss me off, because I think there’s a real Puritanical streak in modern Hollywood movies, but here it actually works. For some reason, you don’t need to see them in the sack to know they really want each other. They yearn for each other.
VOICE FROM ABOVE: This is the police! Pull over! (A police helicopter flies above them).
MA (sticks head out window): Sorry, we can’t pull over. We’re reviewing a movie!
VOICE FROM HELICOPTER: Who do you guys think you are? Cinema Knife Fighters?
LS (sticking head out window): In the flesh! Now go get bent so we can finish our review of this movie!
VOICE FROM HELICOPTER: Oh, well in that case, drive on. Just remember to wear your seatbelts.
MA: Yeah, yeah.
I enjoyed the characters, especially The Driver. I liked the fact that The Driver, as efficiently cool and tough as he was, wasn’t some Sylvester Stallone superguy hero who simply beats the crap out of the bad guys without breaking a sweat. With those types of characters, you know they’re going to come out on top. The Driver was different. He was vulnerable, and so you weren’t sitting there EXPECTING him to blow all the bad guys away. You weren’t so sure, and this worked to the film’s advantage. I thought Ryan Gosling did an excellent job creating this quiet heroic character.
LS: There’s something about existential heroes and fast cars. My favorite action film of last year was FASTER, where Duane “The Rock” Johnson played an amped-up, no-nonsense guy who gets revenge with very few words, and a fast car to get him there. DRIVE is like the smarter version of that movie in some ways. Hell, all of the acting here is top-notch, but Gosling owns the camera every time he’s onscreen.
I’ve been aware of Gosling ever since his mesmerizing performance as a neo-Nazi in 2001’s THE BELIEVER. He was also pretty great as a crack-addicted teacher in HALF-NELSON (2006). He’s an exceptional young actor who is capable of great intensity. DRIVE might just be his best movie yet. The fact that he is able to do so much with so little dialogue is amazing. I can’t praise this guy enough.
MA: But a movie is only as good as its villain, and Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose is every bit as good as he appeared to be in the previews. He’s one cold-hearted son of a bitch. I loved Brooks in this role. He’s GOODFELLAS scary, and he’d make Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci proud. He actually reminded me of someone else in this movie, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Even now I’m baffled. At times, his performance reminded me of Rod Steiger, but I don’t think that’s who I was thinking of. Anyway, there are lots of good parts about DRIVE, but the best part is Brooks’ performance. It’s Oscar-worthy.
LS: Well, I think Gosling is just as good and his role is just as Oscar-worthy, but it’s a very different performance. Brooks stands out because he is playing against type, and doing a terrific job at it. Remember, Brooks started as a comedian, directing and starring in movies like REAL LIFE (1979) and MODERN ROMANCE (1981). Heck, I remember when he was starting out making short, funny movies for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in the early days of that show. But he has come into his own as a dramatic actor. There’s a real likability to Brooks, and he plays off that here perfectly, as a man who seems to be your friend one minute and then turns deadly at the drop of a hat. He really is perfect in this role.
MA: Ron Perlman is also excellent as Rose’s partner Nino, but he’s not as good as Brooks. I enjoyed Carey Mulligan as Irene. She’s good looking, sure, but her quiet performance made her the perfect match for The Driver.
LS: I think Perlman is underrated here. He turns in another great performance. But he’s playing the kind of gangster who is violent and intimidating and who is the exact opposite of Albert Brooks’ character. That’s why their scenes together are so good. Perlman’s Nino is a musclehead who thinks he’s a lot smarter than he is. But he defers to Brooks’s Bernie Rose. Why? Nino appears to be the more threatening bad guy. But Brooks is even scarier, and he sells it. And part of why that works so well is because he has Perlman to play off of. The two have perfect chemistry as the bad guys here.
MA: Hmm, sounds like two other guys we know.
MA (chuckles): Never mind.
LS: I also really liked Carey Mulligan as Irene. She got a lot of attention from her role in the 2009 film, AN EDUCATION, but it wasn’t a fluke. She’s a really good actress and is perfectly cast here. Like you said, she’s also cute as hell.
Hell, even the kid, Kaden Leos as Benecio, is really good here, and I rarely like child actors.
MA: That’s an understatement. You hate child actors! You’d rather eat them for breakfast than watch them in a movie!
LS: That’s not true at all. I never eat children— for breakfast.
MA: Bryan Cranston does a fine job as The Driver’s friend and employer Shannon. Cranston was just in CONTAGION, and he was very good in that too.
LS: I don’t care about CONTAGION. If you want to see Cranston at his best, just watch the amazing AMC show BREAKING BAD, where he’ll dazzle you every Sunday night as a high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook. This guy has come a long way from playing the goofy dad on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE.
MA: And as Irene’s husband Standard, Oscar Isaac, who we saw earlier this year in SUCKER PUNCH (2011) does a nice job. He makes the guy a real person, not just an ordinary ex-convict cliché.
LS: Yeah, Oscar Isaac is good here, too. And don’t forget Christina Hendricks ( who plays the uber-sexy Joan on another AMC series, MAD MEN) as Blanche, a woman who is forced to go along with Standard on his little “mission.” It’s a small role, but Hendricks does a fine job trying to be less glamorous as usual (but hell, glamor is in this lady’s genes) as a woman without many options in her life.
I think the casting here is a big part of why the movie is so good at what it does. With a less-talented cast, DRIVE wouldn’t be half as much fun.
MA: Yep, DRIVE is the real deal. It’s a slick production that is as smooth and polished as a freshly waxed Thunderbird. It draws its audience in immediately, and then moves along with a quiet efficiency on all cylinders, taking them on one fulfilling thrill ride. I give it three and a half knives.
LS: Oh yeah, well I give it four knives. What do you think of that? I loved this movie, and it’s easily one of the best movies we’ve seen this year.
MA: Always trying to one-up me!
What’s sad about this is I saw DRIVE in a theater that was practically empty. I hope people go out and see this one.
(MA and LS suddenly realize they are headed straight for a cliff. They both jump out of their cars at exactly the right moment before the vehicles hurtle to their destruction)
LS (brushes himself off): Well, that was fun.
MA (gets up): Sure was. Now, what?
LS: How about a pizza?
MA: Sounds good. (Pulls out his cell phone). Hello? Guys, you there? Listen, I’m by the cliffs. I want that pizza. You have five minutes.
LS (Pulls out his cell phone): Okay, dummies, listen up. In two minutes—-.
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives DRIVE ~three and a half knives!
LL Soares gives DRIVE ~four knives.