Directed by: Nicholas Widing Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks
Review: ‘Drive’ is a purely existential romp into the action genre. Usually you don’t see the term existential thrown around when discussing your average action movie, and while this might not really be an action movie per se, I think the description is still valid. I have a grip on existentialism as far as how it’s portrayed on screen and in the real world, but the book definition (from dictionary.com) is as follows: “a philosophical attitude…opposed to rationalism and empiricism, that stresses the individual’s unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for the authenticity of his or her choice.”
That definition defines this movie to a T. The plot line doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table, but it’s the motivations of the key players that make this movie, and it’s in that area where it also has its biggest struggle. Our unnamed main character, the ‘Driver’ for which the movie gets its title, gets himself into the trouble he finds himself in for a girl. This is not something that is hard to understand, but he gets himself in a bad situation through using his skills that he has developed as a driver for his life in the shadows that we really don’t know why he does.
Money is usually the end-game, but this Driver doesn’t care about money. He has a lonely existence and is consumed with doing things for no real reason other than to do them. Nobody in his world can stop him and nobody can make him change his course, once he’s set on it. He operates in this world with reckless abandon as someone not only outside the law and moral norms, but outside the reality that we all live in.
While this makes the Driver a very intriguing character, it doesn’t really make him one in which we can sympathize with. It is not easy to relate to a character, and more importantly care about one, that doesn’t live in the same world that we do. The characters all around him have motivations and they use Driver and his skills as a means to their ends. While our Driver is seemingly, acutely aware of said fact, he doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. This would lead us all to believe that maybe all of the ones using Driver are just cogs in the Driver’s master plan, but then that master plan never comes to fruition.
Albert Brooks is convincingly great in his portrait of a mobster who tried going at it straight, then went crooked, and is trying get back to the straight and narrow once again. He has his opportunity so long as the seedy world he has created around himself doesn’t destroy his chance before he takes it. His relationship with the Ron Perlman gangster seems both plausible and realistic. The nature of this man and his actions are alive on screen and we can see his life melting away with his last chance to get back to the place he wanted to be.
The movie was done well, if not overstylized. The director has complete control of what he’s trying to do and does a great job plotting out each shot and each action sequence. The use of music is a bit perplexing at times, but it does add to a bit of the existential nature of the film. Ultimately, where the movie falls short for me is in the aforementioned lack of transparency of our main character. Having more clear motivations so we could see what he actually is and why he’s doing what he’s doing, while still maintaining the same character structure would have gone a long way towards making this a better film as a whole.
That said, this is an enjoyable film and worth your time, if for nothing other than how well it’s done from a technical perspective.