MovieMantz Review: ‘Drive’

Driver’s License to Kill

Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

With the exception of 2004’s “The Notebook,” Ryan Gosling has, in the last decade, tended to shy away from heartthrob-style roles in favor of non-conventional films like 2006’s gritty “Half Nelson” (for which he earned an Oscar nomination), 2007’s offbeat “Lars and the Real Girl” and last year’s intensely raw “Blue Valentine.”

But if 2011 goes down as the year in which Gosling really broke through to mainstream moviegoers – thanks to his revelatory comic turn in “Crazy. Stupid. Love.” – his career is about to shift into high gear with his perfectly understated performance in “Drive.” As a stunt driver by day who moonlights as a getaway driver by night, Gosling exudes a cool charisma that recalls younger versions of Steve McQueen (from “Bullitt”) and Robert de Niro (from “Taxi Driver”).

But there’s much more under the hood of this atmospheric slice of LA film noir, which saw its director, Nicolas Winding Refn, deservedly win Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival back in May. What starts off as an unusual romance between Gosling’s shy driver and his troubled neighbor (Carey Mulligan) takes a sharp detour about halfway through, resulting in a brilliant work of art that’s bold, daring and unpredictable.

It’s also stylish and very violent to the point where viewers may feel inclined to compare “Drive” to the likes of Quentin Tarantino. But seeing as how Tarantino’s strength lies with dialogue – and seeing as how sparse the dialogue is in Hossein Amini’s screenplay (which is based on the book by James Sallis) – the film is much closer to the likes of David Cronenberg, whose history of violence is more sparing, but no less grisly.

“Drive” also has one of the most distinct and unforgettable soundtracks of any movie in recent years. The score composed by Cliff Martinez brings to mind Tangerine Dream’s score for 1983’s “Risky Business,” while some of the songs (particularly “A Real Hero”) also add to the ‘80s vibe that permeates the entire film.

Gosling’s intense performance is supported by equally strong turns from Mulligan and Oscar Isaac (who plays the ex-con father to Mulligan’s young boy). Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman are also effective as the shady low-lifes who find work for Gosling’s driver, but the standout turn in “Drive” belongs to Albert Brooks – a revelation as a former film producer-turned-violent crime boss.

“Drive” left such an immense and lasting impression on me that I simply couldn’t wait to see it again. This is one mighty cool movie, and it’s bound to stand the test of time as a classic of its genre. So if you’re looking for a rewarding cinematic experience that will stay with you long after the house lights come up, then the odds are that you’ll get a lot of mileage out of “Drive.”

Verdict: SEE IT!

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