Occasionally, you might watch a movie that doesn’t really thrill you, and you wonder why it earned so much chatter. Then, hours or the next day later, you’re still thinking about it until finally a piece fits, then another, and then another. Then you start to understand. That’s what happened with Drive, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Ryan Gosling, and nominated for pretty much everything from 2011 except any major Academy Awards, but it did gain best director at Cannes.
“Kid” aka “Driver” (Gosling) rarely speaks nor smiles. He does three things as best he can: drive, fix cars, and go unnoticed. They are in that order because Kid is very successful at driving and fixing cars, but things go wrong when he forgets to remain unnoticed. With the help of former stuntman Shannon (Bryan Cranston), he lands paying gigs driving stunt cars for film producers during the day and getaway cars for criminals at night. Everything he does is clear and concise. He leaves no prints and no evidence. He throws away cell phones after a job and steals the getaway car before it. If anyone is off the grid, it’s Kid. And it’s part of his plan.
Drive opens with a car chase in which all wheels stay on the road, no sidewalks are involved, and no fruit carts get smashed. Kid barely says ten words and almost leaves one of the perpetrators at the scene because his hard and fast rule is “five minutes. During that five minutes, I’m yours. One minute before or after, you’re on your own.” The key here is “on your own,” which is what Kid tries to be as long as possible. When he lets his guard down and abandons the “on your own,” that’s when things go wrong.
Down the hall from his apartment are Irene (Carey Mulligan) and Benicio (Kaden Leos), the wife and son of Standard (Oscar Issac), in jail for crimes not explained but likely robbery. When Irene has car trouble in a convenience store parking lot, Kid drives her and Benicio home, and this is where Kid is not “on your own.” A ride home leads to talking. Talking leads to dinner. Dinner leads to dates. Dates lead to holding hands. Kid actually smiles but still barely talks – until Irene gets a phone call. Standard found a Get Out of Jail Free card.
On the professional side, Shannon takes care of Kid, pays him to fix cars at the garage while putting together a partnership for a race team. This is where the surprise of the film arrives in the form of Albert Brooks as Bernie, the former film producer turned wanna-be mob boss trying to hustle a buck. Bernie agrees to front Shannon $300,000 to start the race team and hire Kid to drive, and it all seems promising until – again – Kid forgets about “on your own.” There are deals, double crosses, daggers, and I can’t think of something having to do with guns that starts with a D. Dammit. Hey, there’s one. Brooks, who completely reinvents himself, gained dozens of nominations and wins for best supporting actor from a long list of film associations across the country, including Austin, Boston, Chicago, BAFTA, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Golden Globes, and more.
Drive is all about the food chain. Who is bigger than who? Who can kill who? Who can help who? Who can buy who? And who isn’t looking when who wants to either plant him with a bullet or a blade? There are crosses and double crosses, sometimes getting too complicated for the good of the film but not for the good of the action. Carey Mulligan (Public Enemy, The Great Gatsby) does an excellent job of looking cute and innocent while staying out of the way and letting all the wrong happen around her. She knows that her husband, now out of jail, is not yet done with his life of crime. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Argo) is likeable yet weasely enough to be a middle man flunky, above Kid but below Bernie. There’s violence, and some of it downright disgusting, especially someone skull crunching that sound like biting into an apple.
But back to the puzzle piece that saved me from disliking Drive. Listen carefully when Shannon is explaining to Irene how he met Kid and how and why he gave him a job. It wasn’t until a day after seeing the film that I remembered the dialogue. This short speech, combined with a few moments in which Kid played nicely with Irene’s son Benicio, further combined with the final shot of the film, allowed me to better understand what Kid was all about.
Of all the good things in drive, something really annoyed me, and I assume I should blame it on Refn, the director. There’s an 80’s attachment here. The music is 80’s, Kid’s jacket is 80’s, and even the stupid font of the opening credits is reminiscent of many bad 80’s movies. Why? I hated the 80’s, but I did not hate Drive.
Teacher gives it a B+.