“Drive” a stellar neo-noir film

Noah Diamond-Stolzman, Multi-Media Editor

“Drive” is not the movie that the trailers portray: it is significantly better. The trailers sell it as an action movie in the strain of “The Fast and the Furious” or “The Transporter” and while “The Transporter” comparison is apt, “Drive” is so much more. It’s a stellar neo-noir film, exploring the conflicts of life, love and the seedy underworld.
“Drive” tells the story of an unnamed driver — stuntman by day, getaway driver by night — played by Ryan Gosling. He’s defined by his two key skills: driving, and delivering beatings, both of which he is unparalleled at. Along with his mechanic named Shannon, played by “Breaking Bad” actor Bryan Cranston, he is looking to move out of crime by purchasing a race car. To complicate things he begins falling for his married neighbor Irene, played by Carey Mulligan. Gosling wants to help Irene make a better life for her son, but when her husband is released from jail carrying a dangerous debt; the Driver agrees to help with one more job.
Gosling fills the screen with a coiled intensity that hasn’t been seen on the big screen since the heyday of James Dean. He says only a few dozen lines, most of which consist of one to three words. The Driver, if portrayed by almost any other actor, would come off as forced. From his near-constant silence, to the toothpick constantly lurking at the corner of his mouth, to his leather driving gloves and silver jacket with a giant golden scorpion emblazoned on the back, it could easily appear that he’s trying too hard. But Gosling sells it with exceptional ease. He isn’t trying to be a silent badass, he just doesn’t have anything to say, and happens to be able to whoop some ass.
He transitions from introspectively eating a slice of pie, to threatening to shove someone’s teeth down their throat without pause. But Gosling brings more to his performance than silence and beat downs. He embodies the old adage that the majority of acting is reacting. Just because he isn’t speaking, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything to convey. With three words he tells more than most manage to say in a page of dialogue. With a minute of staring straight ahead and driving, he shows more inner turmoil than the biggest rage-filled tantrums.
Gosling isn’t the only outstanding performance in “Drive.” Albert Brooks brings a startling humanity to mafia boss Bernie Rose, playing a villain hard not to like, until things start going down the tubes. Cranston continues to break free from the mold set by “Malcolm in the Middle,” as a washed up, crippled mechanic. Ron Perlman doesn’t break any new ground as the unlikable mob boss, Nino, but no one out there is complaining about Perlman doing what he does best. Newcomers Oscar Isaac and James Biberi, as well as Christina Hendricks all perform outstandingly in their minor roles, and Isaac and Biberi should have very fruitful careers if “Drive” is any indication.
From a technical standpoint “Drive” is very strong. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn continues to solidify his auteur vision set forth by his breakout “Pusher” trilogy: tense, minimalist films, punctuated with scenes of truly brutal violence. Despite being set in the modern day, “Drive” establishes a tone that is firmly set in the 80’s, with neon-pink cursive titles, a synth filled soundtrack featuring a theme with the none-too-subtle chorus of “Be a human being and a real hero.” Not to mention Gosling’s signature jacket.
“Drive” is a standout film. The perfect middle ground between art house film and action flick. It does suffer from misrepresentation, and can be a bit unenjoyable if one is expecting something more like what the trailers suggest. Expect “Drive” to be making several appearances in the Oscars come February.