As one of the most intriguingly versatile actors of our generation, Ryan Gosling fronts an impressive cast in Nicolas Winding Refn’s hyper-stylized Drive.
Based on the 2005 James Sallis novel of the same name, Drive tells the story of a stunt driver/getaway driver/mechanic living in Los Angeles. Oddly, the silently multi-faceted character is simply referred to as ‘Driver’ (Ryan Gosling), and spends much of the film in quiet contemplation of the potentially damaging situations in which he finds himself: driving thieves away from a stick-up, maneuvering car flips on a Hollywood set, or wooing single mother Irene (Carey Mulligan) whose hubby is in the slammer.
Despite the tough-as-nails exterior that Driver puts on with few words and many brooding poses, he is easily enveloped in the personal confusions and catastrophes of the few he allows close to him. After Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns from jail, Driver is pulled in to help settle a post-prison debt. Similarly, Driver’s desperately hopeful boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) is attempting to use Driver to turn his fortunes around by pimping him out as a new-fangled race car driver sponsored by shady businessmen Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman).
Still, as characters, plot and dashboards conflict and collide with Driver, we see in such small, subtly perverse ways how he is controlled and manipulated by a big heart and few words to express himself. So necessarily subtle, Gosling’s intense on-screen presence builds an undeniably palpable character in the LA jungle of heat, car exhaust, and 90s power ballads. Driver constantly feels like a volcano always nearing eruption and as an audience, we are riveted to see the boil over.
As daringly subdued and restrained as Gosling’s performance reads, Refn expertly crafts a dynamic cast of stand-alone, charismatic characters to colour his slickly self-aware world. Carey Mulligan has a subtlety and a sensuality all her own. She is all together strong, weak and gripping as she pulls Driver in to touch, only to push him away again. As audience members, we are truly seduced through Irene’s eyes by Driver, as his silence and mystery lures us, only to have his dangerous, flip-of-a-switch violence of his hidden life repel us once more. Although Irene is very true to Mulligan’s type-cast, (shy, cute, charming), it is an archetype she has crafted skillfully. Ms. Mulligan definitely has the market cornered on shy waifs.
As one of the most underrated character actors of the 21st century, Bryan Cranston adds another pathetic homage to his roster of loveable losers. As Shannon, his disparity and sheer bad luck is so palpably pathetic, that his oddly sadistic overtones feel entirely authentic. We are unsurprised and sympathetic to Shannon’s moral grapples, and we cannot help but root for the underdog. Well played, Dad from Malcolm In The Middle, well played.
Albert Brooks is conniving and deceptive as the sleazy mafia insider Bernie Rose, right down to his tacky suits and anemic social skills. His performance grounds the film of stylistic overdose, providing the necessary roots of gripping cruelty and paralyzing humanity. This caricatured conundrum is Brooks’ best work to date.
Overall, these characters mix and mingle against Refn’s highly pre-meditated soundstage of style in an awkward, often self-conscious fashion. As authentic as the realism genre of acting reads, it is jarringly counterbalanced by Refn’s self-aware, far too slick direction. The camera seems to linger too long over Ryan Gosling’s hunky jaw line, his gimmicky velour jacket, and his lingering stares at the world he cannot join. The score of dramatic 90s soft rock pays reference to cheesy early 90s action/romance movies, such as Days Of Thunder. It is a stylistic choice far too pre-meditated and self-conscious of its own quirk. The interesting story, riveting characters, and fabulous, bloody, bloody action does enough to provide the film with its own stamp of originality. The overdose of meta just jumps the shark.
As far as its Oscar future goes, I have a feeling that Drive’s summer, sleeper smash peaked too soon. Gosling’s performance is well deserving of an Oscar nomination, and I believe he will get it, but without the ultimate win. The unsophisticated Golden Globe Awards have rewarded Gosling with dual nominations for his weaker performances in The Ides Of March and Crazy Stupid Love. I still believe that the Academy will overlook the glitzier choices, embellished with Clooneys and Carells, and reward the subtlety of Drive.
Albert Brooks has become the award season front-runner for Best Supporting Actor. With wins at the National Society of Film Critics Awards, The New York Film Critics Circle Awards and The Satellite Awards, Brooks is nominated for a Golden Globe award. I believe he is the one to beat this Sunday night.
What did you think of Drive? Was Gosling’s performance genius, or a mumbling mess? Share all your thoughts, every last one, in the comments section.