Drive (2011)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Drive</strong> (2011)

(In theaters, September 2011) Every so often, genre thriller fans are asked to confront moody art-house versions of familiar crime stories.  Here we have a stunt driver / mechanic moonlighting as a getaway driver.  He meets a single mother and her son; gets embroiled in a heist when her husband gets out of prison; is forced to defend himself once the heist turns bad and he ends up with a lot of money that other people have acquired in ways that would get everyone killed.  Having read (and re-read) James Sallis’ thin novel on which the film is based, I can say that the adaptation is both loose and faithful: The plot is there, the motivations are entirely different but the mood is just as laconic and borderline pretentious.  There are fewer details in the film about the protagonist’s life as a stuntman, but the details surrounding the main plot are far better developed (in particular “Irene”, much more fully rounded from the novel’s “Irena”).  Still, the film itself feels stuck in-between genre conventions and dramatic pretention: The languid pacing alone is a tough sell to thriller audiences: Drive often feels like lengthy silences loosely connected together and the editing seems happy to linger on characters as they stare wordlessly into space to the sound of eighties-inspired music.  Ryan Gosling’s nameless character is either a straightforward revenge-driven hero, or an enigma without dialogue; I had certainly imagined a scrappier protagonist from the novel.  Meanwhile, art-house audiences may not feel entirely with the Grand Theft Auto-inspired subject matter, or with the unnecessary flashes of extreme gore.  Director Nicolas Winding Refn is far more interested in dramatic beats than action sequences, which gives a particular off-beat flavour to the film’s more intense moments: they likely won’t satisfy action junkies, but they do bring something unusual to the table in terms of visual presentation.  (The opening pre-credit sequence is remarkable.)  Los Angeles itself gets to shine either through glorious night-time helicopter shots, or through the presentation of seedy run-down apartments in which the characters live.  This kind of in-between location comes to define the rest of the picture as well, and if there’s enough interesting material in Drive to warrant a look for those who enjoy style clashes, the film itself may be a bit too self-involved to be fully successful.  Cut fifteen minutes of the film, and we’ll see again.

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