These are a few things that Drive has going for it: 1) the hottest actor of the year, Ryan Gosling; 2) arguably the most promising actress of 2010, Carey Mulligan; 3) a director, Nicolas Winding Refn, who brings a distinctive European flavor to the project; 4) handsome production design and striking visuals.
None of that matters, because Drive goes nowhere thanks to a lackluster story and characters who are thinner than windshield-wiper fluid. It’s all very frustrating, because the film would seem to have so much potential. Yet once again, Hollywood puts polish and shine on a movie and neglects the most important element, good storytelling.
Gosling plays “the driver,” an enigmatic Steve McQueen type, a soft-spoken loner who is on the wrong side of the law but who harbors — you guessed it — a kinder, gentler side. Just in case we overlook this aspect of his personality, we are treated to scenes of Gosling watching cartoons with a kid. Somehow, I can’t picture McQueen taking time out in The Getaway to watch an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.
The driver decides to bless a girl next door with his niceness, which leads to big problems. Mulligan, so good in An Education and in Never Let Me Go, has the thankless role of “the girl” in another example of lousy parts for women in Hollywood “A” movies. Mulligan plays a single mother (dad is in prison) whose main purpose in Drive is to cast sad looks at the men in her life: expressions of longing for Gosling, and looks of despair for her no-good husband, an ex-con called “Standard.” (I checked, but I could find no character in the film named “Automatic.”)
The supporting cast is also wasted. Bryan Cranston is the foolish sidekick whom any graduate of Movies 101 will tell you is expendable in a movie like this. Christina Hendricks looks fetching but comes and goes in no time at all. Albert Brooks, as a foul-tempered money man, is one of the film’s few bright spots. The undernourished plot is a heist-gone-wrong story that you’ve seen many times before.
Refn, who inexplicably took home a Best Director award from the Cannes Film Festival for this mediocrity, wants his film to be like Shane with car chases. Shane was cool and had lots of soul. Drive looks cool, but has no soul. Grade: C+
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Kaden Leos, Jeff Wolfe, James Biberi, Russ Tamblyn Release: 2011
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