I’m often criticized for not being more open about my movie tastes. According to the sentiments of many acquaintances, I can’t enjoy a film unless I’m being tested. A movie has to make me think, it has to be based in truth, it has to be subtitled and made under X amount of money. I’m unable, they say, to appreciate the characteristic that films are specifically designed to do: entertain.
All of this, I often defend, is completely untrue, but their claims are not without merit. Yes, I do prefer that a movie test me, both emotionally and mentally. No, I do not think films are primarily made to entertain. Yes, if you asked me to create my top 100 films of all time, 60 percent of them would not be in English. But that doesn’t mean I’m not open to whatever is being projected. When I sit down in a theater, regardless if the screen will soon be filled with The Tree of Life or Transformers 3, I sit with an open mind. Every film is given a clean slate; no judgments are made prematurely.
It’s quite simple, really. For me to enjoy a film, it needs to be one of two things: something I’ve never seen before, or something I’ve seen dozens of times, only done distinctively.
That laborious preamble is made to draw attention to a new film that falls into the former category, but is inexplicably entertaining. The film is Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. It is unlike everything I’ve ever seen, and it is utterly flawless.
Drive begins with an extended pre-credit sequence that rivals any opening scene from any film made in the last decade (or the one before, or the one before that). It’s quick, smart, impossibly suspenseful, grandly conceived and ingeniously executed. And did I mention that it’s accomplished with its star, Ryan Gosling, not uttering a single word?
To crudely summarize the film’s plot, Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt car driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for thieves in need. Shortly into the film, two important things happen: he befriends his timid, disarming neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and gets involved with a few low-level criminals who will do anything, and hurt anyone, to make a buck.
Like all great films, issuing a two sentence plot description in no way does the movie justice. Also like all great films, to divulge details any further would be criminal.
Drive, according to its director, who’s best known for his romper stomper action flick Bronson, was inspired by original fairy tale stories (you know, the ones where Cinderella’s step sisters slice their ankles off to fit their foot in a glass slipper), and electronica music. Drive has both, but not without every frame being firmly cemented in reality. This is a highly stylized picture. Colors are heightened, slow motion is often utilized, music (both the songs by various electronica bands and an original score by the great Cliff Martinez) swells, then fades, then swells again; all lending itself to a wholly original work of art.
Ryan Gosling, matching the career high he set last year with Blue Valentine, is mesmerizing as The Driver. He moves slowly, speaks purposefully, and always appears to be three moves ahead. He’s a calculating bruiser of a man. The kind of guy who says very little, but is constantly speaking volumes. His Driver is the best acting performance seen on screen so far this year.
Additionally, each supporting player fits into Refn’s world seamlessly. Carey Mulligan delivers the caliber of performance we’ve grown to expect from her, and then some. The fact that her character was scripted as a Latin woman, which was quickly amended once Refn met Mulligan, says a lot about what this incredible young talent brings to a film. Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks and especially Albert Brooks (in a career-best performance) all dive head first into the material. Chopping at the bit and loving it.
In May, I made a bold prediction that you’d be lucky to find a better American-made film this year than The Tree of Life (a statement I again backed up a few weeks ago). I’ll speak to that now by simply declaring that luck has befallen us. Drive is a colossal achievement of the medium. It’s a thinker, a mover and damn fine entertainer. Enjoy the ride. A