The new Ryan Gosling film Drive is a lesson in stylish excess. An art film masquerading as a action vehicle, the majority of Drive seems inspired in equal part by arty European gangster classics like Jean Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai, Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name,” and the graphic violence of torture porn. It’s an eclectic mix, and somehow, it works.

Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a quiet car mechanic who works part-time as Hollywood stuntman and moonlights as a getaway driver. The opening sequence places us right in the middle of one his “jobs” – a robbery with two unreliable thieves who presumably killed someone. But it’s not exactly a “getaway” in the typical sense. Driver does his best to avoid the police as much as possible, driving the speed limit, pulling into alleyways and under bridges, and parking in crowded public places. It’s masterful and suspenseful filmmaking that is far more entertaining than the typical cops-chase-car-cops-crash dynamic of other similar films.

The world of Drive is populated with typical stock characters of the heist-gone-wrong genre: the older best friend and mentor (Bryan Cranston, who can do no wrong), a shady mob boss (Albert Brooks) and his volatile associate (an underused Ron Perlman), and the girl the hero is willing to risk it all for (Carey Mulligan). Names aren’t really important in this film, and neither is the plot. It’s a formula we’ve seen done countless times before, except this film makes it seem unique based on the rituals, and quiet charisma, of its lead character.

It was interesting seeing this film with an audience that probably expected what the trailer promised: something akin to a Jason Statham action flick with Ryan Gosling in the lead role. Instead, three-quarters of the film is meandering with sequences of sparse exchanges between Driver and his romantic interest – scenes that will probably be characterized as “slow” -punctuated by brief, jarring scenes of brutal and graphic violence. The audience cheered at the sections when characters get stabbed or killed; the quieter sequences were watched with an almost palpable trepidation that the film would have no action as promised.

It’s a polarizing experience – if you enjoy heist-gone-wrong films and can stomach brutal (I emphasize brutal – think Eastern Promises-style violence) then you’ll probably find a lot to love about the film. However, if art films are off-putting and sequences of minimal dialogue coupled with inexpressive performances aren’t your idea of entertainment, it may be best to wait to rent this one. In my opinion, it’s a fresh and stylish take on an well-worn genre with a great soundtrack and a glimpse of what could be our generation’s Clint Eastwood – that old Mickey Mouse Club kid Gosling.

Grade: B+


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