This neo-noir thriller begins with a nocturnal break-and-enter at a dim-lit factory. The getaway driver (Ryan Gosling – his character is never named…let’s call him Driver) sets a stopwatch for 5 minutes, and the tension is ratcheted up as the thieves struggle to get back to the car inside the deadline. Alas, the cops are on to them and this signals the start of a tyre-smokin’ car chase along an LA freeway, which turns into a cat-and-mouse battle of wits as the getaway driver deviates to a maze of shadowy backblocks. Tuned into the police radio network, he manages to stay a step ahead of his pursuers until they spot him at a set of lights. More tyre-smokin’ and engine gunning ensues, until the driver makes a mastermove that ends the game (that’s all you’re getting). Driver 1: cops nil. But wait…
Cut to the driver next day, wearing… a cop uniform. Uh-HUH! Bad cop.
Nope – movie stuntman driver, playing the part of a cop. Haha – clever. Good to be confounded like that.
Turns out this cool cat is a busy boy: he also holds down a regular job as an auto mechanic, working for loser greasemonkey with a bottom-feeder’s dream, Shannon (Bryan Cranston, of Breaking Bad).
Gosling’s mysterious, taciturn, toothpick-chewing, genius driver character is intriguing – at first. There’s a Clint Eastwood tough guy cool about him; that is, he looks cool and is emotionally cool, unflinching in his getaway driver role as LA’s best zone in on him. However, intrigue gives way to befuddlement as he takes an instant shine to the young son of yummy neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan). WTF? He’s the last bloke you’d pick as a kiddie type.
Of course, Irene and Driver have a “connection”, but whatever language is passing between them it ain’t one of words. There’s a lot of smouldering looks exchanged, and on one occasion they stare wordlessly into each other’s eyes for so long it is embarrassing. I had to stifle an urge to giggle. Brought back memories of “silent prayers” at Sunday School. Guess I’m sayin’ more about me than the movie, so I’ll leave it there. My point is, though, that for me cracks had begun to appear around this part of the movie. Up until then, I’d been holding high hopes that this was one stylish, intense hellride that was gonna push on triumphantly to the finish line under its own ever-building momentum.
When Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is released from the clink, Driver switches from prospective lover to family protector. What, a kiddies’ man and now knight errant?! Umm…
Crims who have stood Standard protection money in jail call the debt in, and Driver offers his services as getaway driver in a one-off heist that is supposed to clear the debt. Things go wrong. Suddenly, Driver’s pursuers are a mob of gangsters far more ruthless and dangerous than the LA cops. The stakes have been upped, but the dramatic tension falls away, as the film descends into the mire of contemporary ultra-violence that has become just so passé. It ends up a silly gorefest, almost cartoonish in its excess. That’s not a problem as long as the tone is right, but here it’s not. This is a movie that takes itself seriously, then shapeshifts unwittingly into something closer to black comedy.
Worse, Driver has lost all his mystique by the end. What’s interesting about yet another Hollywood vigilante hero/anti-hero stomping a badass’s head to pulp and eventually cleaning up an entire contingent of gangster scum all on his lonesome? Seen it all before countless times. And was his scorpion-embossed jacket sooo cool that he would keep on wearing it in public with the blood and guts of half of LA’s gangster population splattered all over it? And what of all that silent, toothpick-chewin’ stuff? Still waters running deep? Pah! More like a puddle skinned with a sump oil slick.
OK, I was pissed off with the way this went. It could and should have been much better. But Drive delivers the goods for much of its running time, looks a million bucks, the performances are fine (although I don’t buy into the critical hype that has built around Ryan Gosling), and music is used to terrific effect. It’s entertaining and stylish. All good as far as it goes, but there’s more trompe l’oeil about this than substance.
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