Last year, the movie Drive appeared to do well in building up pre-release buzz. Actor Ryan Gosling, the film’s star, likewise was looking to have a serious breakout year, what with not one, not two, but three big film releases, each in a different genre (the other two being the political drama The Ides of March and the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love).
Shortly before the release of Drive, the studios fed the first five or so minutes of this to the internet. The sequence presented, although incomplete, was nonetheless fascinating and had my full attention.
When the film was finally released, the critics were, for the most part, positive in their reactions (Rottentomatoes.com has the movie earning an extremely positive 93% among film critics and a somewhat less, yet still good, 79% among audiences). In those early days, there was talk of Oscar nominations, in particular for Albert Brooks’ turn as Bernie Rose, the movie’s villain.
Despite all these positives, the film didn’t perform all that well in theaters, although given the movie’s small budget I’m sure it turned a profit. Mr. Brooks wasn’t nominated for his role (his twitter response regarding the non-nomination was quite humorous). Worse, the film suffered the indignity of being sued by a movie goer who claimed false advertisement, thinking from the film’s trailers that this would be an action adventure thriller along the lines of Fast Five versus the slow burn noir thriller she got.
And for those interested in the film, Drive is just that, a slow burn thriller that, while successful in creating tension, nonetheless left me wanting more.
To begin with the good: the opening sequence, which I mentioned above, is indeed fantastic when seen all the way through. It is a triumph of low key tension build up, an almost wordless sequence that had me gnashing my teeth despite the fact that we have no standard “Hollywood” type car chase presented.
Alas, then came the rest of the movie.
I don’t want to sound too harsh, but once again a potentially terrific piece of work is sabotaged by, you guessed it, an inadequate screenplay. The acting, for the most part, is very good. The direction is very strong. The scenery and cinematography is great. The use of locales is wonderful. The level of tension is strong. But we get to the story and, despite all these great elements, we find there isn’t much there there.
Briefly, Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a no name anti-hero in the mold of Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name”. There is no back story, there are no flashbacks. We learn he drives stunts for the movies while working in a garage and, on the side, working as a getaway driver. He befriends and falls in love with his next door neighbor, a woman who has a very young child and a husband in jail. When the husband is released, Driver finds the man owes a debt to some shady characters who have no problem menacing both the husband and the child. Driver agrees to help out the husband and be the wheel man for a pawn shop robbery. But, when it goes bad, Driver quickly realizes there was more to the job than meets the eye.
The above description, alas, is more intriguing than what the film eventually presented. Side stories involving Driver’s boss (Bryan Cranston) were very predictable. Worse, the way that his boss, his boss’ investor, and his boss’ investor’s right hand man intermingle with the job Driver eventually takes were more complicated than they needed to be.
As with both Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Hanna, I get the feeling that the script was being altered as the movie was being filmed. How else to explain that at one point Driver puts on an elaborate disguise before taking out one of the bad guys, yet ultimately there was absolutely no reason for him to do so? To me it looked like maybe the script’s original story was that Driver was keeping his identity from everyone. But as shown in the film, the bad guys knew who he was almost from the very beginning, thus there was no reason for him to disguise himself.
Having said all that, the film wasn’t terrible. It was certainly far better than many works I’ve seen recently. It’s just that when it was all over my immediate reaction was: I will never see this film again, and that’s hardly a ringing endorsement. Two stars out of four.