Bad movies are slow, good movies are “deliberately paced”. Drive is a great movie.
There’s very much an ’80s aesthetic going on, and being born in ’78 I dig it. From the font and color of the opening credits to the synth-pop music getting the haunting-melancholy-beautiful mix just right, I am in love with this movie before it’s even really begun. This is weird for me, because I’ve been looking forward to seeing this and I tend to suffer let-downs from raised hopes and expectations. 25 minutes in, and the movie is exceeding them. Sure, we’ve seen people drive in the Los Angeles river (Grease, Buckaroo Bonzai end titles, Gone in 60 Seconds) and a more refined critic would argue that it’s been filmed to death, but I can’t help thinking Drive is doing it right.
When there’s an obvious set-up for an action beat, it begins in a way I was completely unprepared for and actually jumped. The mood is almost similar to Street Kings or Heat (1995) in some ways, where there’s an emphasis on understating things that makes it more real. This isn’t Schwarzenegger or Stallone where you sit through it mindlessly; when there’s violence on screen you flinch.
Ryan Gosling’s character is unnamed, and everything about him is stripped down to be as essential as possible. His shoes are white, and there is no detail beyond that. His watch face is plain and uncomplicated. Everything about him is elemental and almost austere so that we’re not hung up on details. He simply is. He’s a man with no name for today, or maybe 25 years ago judging from the looks of his sunglasses and jacket.
I love movies, reading up on how they’re made, etc. I geek out over commentary tracks on DVDs. If you enjoy this stuff too, read up on Drive‘s background here. I was pretty gratified to see some of my thoughts weren’t completely off regarding some of the movie’s noir-ish elements, or even wondering if fans of other “slow” movies (like Bullitt is by today’s standards) would enjoy Drive.
The big danger zone in movies today is the car chase, with three distinct types being common:
- Shakily filmed and quick edits (Bourne Supremacy) that they seem to hide the inability to film a narrative flow.
- Reliant on CGI and over-the-top thrills (Fast & Furious, Transporter) that are more visual set pieces, and very cool, but don’t really matter that much.
- Boring (Shaft ). This is where it’s so uninteresting you suddenly forget who’s chasing who, why they are, how you got there, or why you spent money on tickets.
Drive did something different for a change and made a car chase cool again. It was exciting, flowed like a story, gave the viewer a clear idea of what was going on… I haven’t seen a car chase this good since Gone in 60 Seconds (2000). I wish there was more action driving instead of mood driving to the ethereal synth soundtrack, but maybe having only two relatively short scenes is what punctuated the car chases and made them actually good. Despite the film’s title, it becomes much more of a man-on-man heist gone wrong story in the latter half.
It is very R-rated for language, nudity, and violence. It’s not pervasive but there are a few scenes where a character will string together a conjugation of the f-word that belies their intellect, or action scenes that go beyond action into being truly violent. It makes it difficult to know who to recommend this movie to, because it has elements of a blockbuster you might think would be in Bad Boys, but with such an indie movie feel. Who will tolerate both the gruesome moments and the long, slow character reflections?
Apparently I will, because I’d give Drive a solid A- and am even considering buying it. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while.