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Drive / *** (R)

Posted Tuesday, September 27, 2011, at 9:13 PM

(Photo)
Ryan Gosling drives the show in the new thriller "Drive".
FilmDistrict presents a film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Written by Hossein Amini. Based on the novel by James Sallis. Running time: 100 min. Rated R (for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity).

"If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I'm yours no matter what. I don't sit in while you're running it down; I don't carry a gun... I drive."

This is the sales pitch given by the man known only as Driver in the new thriller "Drive". The movie isn't about his getaways, though; it's about his life in between the getaways.

Ryan Gosling ("Half Nelson") plays Driver as a stoic. That's an understatement. He makes Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name look like a party animal. He doesn't feel like one of those people who's been holding things in and is about to explode. It's very clear that his unnerving calm is what allows him to stay in control of every element in his life. He's considering letting go of some of that control, however.

As is usually the case when men lose control, there's this woman, a neighbor in his apartment building. Her name is Irene (Carey Mulligan, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps"). You can see that Driver wishes to ask her out. Finally, after running into her often enough to seem a sign, he speaks with her. He starts spending time with her and her son, Benicio (Kaden Leos). Benicio's father is serving a prison sentence. Irene likes Driver, but I don't know how she knows he likes her. We know it because we spend so much time with him.

Most of that time is spent with his mentor and manager, Shannon (Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad"). Shannon, a former stunt driver himself, manages both Driver's daytime work and his extra curricular activities. Shannon wants to manage Driver into a stock car racing career, but needs money from his sometimes employer Bernie Rose. Comedian Albert Brooks ("Broadcast News") makes a career spinning turn as the not-so-nice small time gangster, Bernie.

Bernie's much nicer than his business partner, Nino (Ron Perlman, "Hellboy"), however. It doesn't take a degree in film study to predict that Driver will eventually end up on the wrong side of his business dealings with Bernie and Nino, but I like the way the plot takes him there on an unpredictable path. That unusual plotting also comes into play in the way Driver's relationship with Irene's husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac, "Sucker Punch"), plays out after he's released from prison.

Plotting isn't really what this movie is about, however. Under the direction of Nicolas Winding Refn, "Drive" is more about mood than anything. The movie is Driver's stoic personality down to its core. From the droning electronic score by Cliff Martinez ("Traffic") and its accompanying '80's style music with its detached vocals to the slow tracking camera movements by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel ("The Usual Suspects"), the filmmakers take on a poker face mirrored by their main character. This film doesn't blink. It doesn't give anything away, but it draws you into its foreign world of crime and punishment through the service entrance. Driver's actions, or rather inaction, often feel gauche in this thriller setting, but they never betray his character or the intentions of the filmmakers.

Refn, in this film and his previous films "Bronson" and "Valhalla Rising", proves himself to be a stylish filmmaker with a knack for turning seemingly typical thriller material into character driven approaches to action filmmaking. Along with his screenwriter, Hossein Amini ("The Wings of the Dove"), Refn isn't afraid to quiet the thriller format down to make a thinking man's action movie. With an economy of words and a heavy reliance on photography, this film artist has been able to redefine genre filmmaking into a hybrid of great dramatic filmmaking and terse action elements. "Drive" might seem awkward to filmgoers expecting a typical crime thriller, but it will seem divine to those more willing to try a new twist on an old recipe.

"Drive" is currently playing at Galaxy Cinema in Sedalia.

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ANDREW D. WELLS
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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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