Drive 2011 ★★★★

I have a rule with films like Drive, and that is that I'm not going to watch them until a few years after they were released. By "films like Drive" I mean films that attain that almost phenomenal word-of-mouth rush of publicity that then go on to plop on to most critics' top 10 of the year lists, but have some very vocal naysayers. You know the films I mean.

The point of this is that the massive groundswell of opinion has died down and I can concentrate on it without being affected one way or another by the half that think it's wonderful and the other half that think it's turd. I know this may make me look like some kind of easily influenced simpleton and, in some ways, I guess I am. But I found it worked really well with things like Donnie Darko and Planet Terror / Death Proof, so it was a rule I was more than happy to stick with. I still haven't got round to watching Fight Club yet.

Of course, I've broken this rule by having watched Drive tonight, but you can blame Netflix US for unexpectedly sticking it in their catalogue this week. I am glad that I broke the rule, though, because it is a fine film. A very fine film, in fact. It's not wonderful. But it's absolutely not turd either.

It's not quite right in some ways, that I'm certain about, though. For a start, it's one of the few films that I've ever seen that has a wonderful soundtrack that is completely unsuited to the film in places. By that, I mean the tracks are fabulous (Nightfall by Kavinsky is on heavy rotation round my place) but could not have been more intrusive or just plain and unsubtly odd.

Then again, this is a film that has a very clear dividing line between being very subtle and about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Ryan Gosling could easily have been Ryan O'Neal for the first 40 minutes or so - largely uncommunicative, not fond of violence, driving faceless robbers around. The first 20 minutes pretty much is The Driver.

Then Carey Mulligan's criminal husband turns up, and it turns into a genuinely gruesome and borderline disturbing kill-frenzy that could easily be mistaken as bearing no resemblance to anything in the first half of the film. It's not an easy to digest jump but Gosling's mesmeric and fantastic performance carries it through.

It's definitely not a film that flows beautifully and it does have its flaws, but the performances are not one of them. Mulligan will have more challenging roles than this (she already has) but she's on typically good form. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman vie for stealing the show from Gosling but both are better than they have been for a number of years. And again, Christina Hendricks probably gets more of an acting challenge on a week to week basis from Mad Men.

It is very, very easy to see why Drive has received such glowing praise and, actually, in some ways it's easy to see why it has been given a right kicking from some quarters. Much of my intrigue about it was just how much like The Driver it was going to be and if it was going to be better. After a while, it's not much like Walter Hill's superb film at all, and at the same time it's not quite as good.

That said, it is very good indeed and it is a testament to just how good it is in quite a number of ways that it overcomes its flaws and issues to still be as enjoyable as it was.

4 Comments

  • I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Brian Cranston is the unsung hero of Drive.

  • I should really have given him a mention, he was great. I only just realised he was in the Drive episode of the X Files, too.

  • I'm in total agreement with you on waiting for furor to die down before seeing a movie. A few years though! You have incredible will power (in other cases, I guess :) ) Starting a few years ago, I had to stop reading reviews before seeing movies (although letterboxd is making that rule tough!) because I let it shape my experience too much.

    I liked what you said about the soundtrack - while I did really like it overall, there were parts that I felt were especially weird (diegetic sound from the party into the hallway) or too closely matched (real hero).

    What gets me every time is that slide into the grotesque, to the point where it's pretty funny (look on his face when he recedes into the shadows of the bathroom). I think it fits though, because I chose to read the film as the logical endpoint of the fairy tale romance.

  • I'm glad you knew what I meant about the soundtrack. I love synth pop and electronica so the selection was awesome, but some were just ill-fitting.

    As regards my willpower, well, with a watchlist of over 700 films, I'll always have something to keep me busy!

Please to comment.