Nominated for Best Sound Editing at the 84th Annual Academy Awards…
It’s a gas. And I was prepared this time. I was not ready for the level of brutality when first viewing Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Valhalla Rising” just over a year ago. It was one of the best films of 2010, but that level of violence was jarring. It was matched by its ambition, however, and many critics called “Valhalla” a masterpiece. “Drive” is a very different kind of film, but no less astonishing. And when that ultra-violence found its way into the film’s second half…I was ready. You have been warned.
“Drive” is an intentional throwback and a beautiful homage. It’s as if Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” had been directed by Michael Mann in L.A. And despite citing Marty S, Lynch, Kubrick and Carpenter as major influences on his work, it is apparent that Nicolas has moved comfortably into his own signature style. If Ryan Gosling appears to harken a West Coast version of Travis Bickle, you shouldn’t come looking for any mirrored “you talkin’ to me”. He barely utters a word here, and is billed simply as…Driver. The film is B-movie schlock done with art-house panache. It’s a modern neo-noir, despite the abundant 80’s influence. The Gosling and Carey Mulligan roles are typical Hollywood crime-gone-awry caricatures, but underplayed impeccably. You’ve even seen this type of heist movie times before, but never quite like this. And then there is Albert Brooks.
There has been more noise about Brooks not receiving a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this then the film itself not getting Best Picture consideration, although both outcries are palpable. I haven’t quite figured yet whether it’s the role itself that has raised the decibels, or the audacity of casting Brooks as Bernie Rose. Albert Brooks as a knife-wielding gangster? “Broadcast News” Albert Brooks? “Defending Your Life” Albert Brooks”? “FINDING-FREAKING NEMO” Albert Brooks?! But it’s an inspired bit of casting, especially considering the unmissable “Taxi Driver” connection. Besides all that, he’s simply fucking marvelous. Nolte and von Sydow as nominees is a joke…they are just in the damn way.
Gosling is one of this new century’s most interesting actors. The tremendous overt portrayal from last year’s “Blue Valentine”(my favorite 2010 performance)is all pulled neatly inward here. It’s a film-duration simmer and Ryan shows superb economy. And there is a keen duality in facing off a decidedly “winner” duo of Gosling/Brooks against the “loser” duo of Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman. It’s a doubles tennis match with bullets, fenders and blades. There’s even two semi-finals and a final. That finale, of course, is winner-take-all.
The opening pre-credits sequence showing Gosling ply his trade as a getaway transporter for hire is scintillating. It’s a boffo hide-and-seek set-piece with near misses and narrow escapes. And you’ll never be able to shake Brooks bleeding-out a victim late in the film while sincerely and compassionately soothing “there’s no pain”. The final battle is done in shadow, and it’s an agonizing wait to discover who’s who. Yes, “Driver” is a compilation of some noted film masterpieces, but also a true original. It adroitly navigates that tightrope balance. Oh, it’s also one of the best films of 2011.