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Have you ever been watching a movie you enjoyed but at a certain point the entire experience sours and continues to degrade until the credits roll? It’s a pretty infuriating phenomenon that occurs at a film’s half way point when aesthetics change or the plot takes a dramatic shift away from what the first part of the movie was about. Some classic examples of this include From Dusk Till Dawn, I Am Legend or 28 Days Later. These are the more well-known examples but I’ve personally run into this exact phenomenon with films like Blade Runner, Hanna and Winter’s Bone. All of these movies have a turning point where they stop being accessible and turn to pretentious self-grooming that I find incredibly obnoxious. Well now I can add another movie to that list after seeing Drive, an ambitious crime thriller that started great and ended with me confused and upset.
I have to admit that if I had only seen the first half of Drive and was asked what I thought about the movie so far, I’d say it’s probably one of the more interesting crime films made that I can recall. Drive follows the story of a nameless protagonist played by Ryan Gosling (whom I’ll be referring to as “Driver” or “The Driver”). Driver spends his days working on-set of films as a stunt driver and in garages fixing up cars for his boss Shannon. By night, Driver moonlights as a getaway driver for petty criminals. Suffices to say, Driver drives cars quite a bit so he’s gotten pretty good at it.
Driver’s life gets complicated after he gets intimately involved with his neighbor Irene, a housewife with a kid whose husband, Standard, is in jail. Over the course of the plot, Standard gets released from jail but is pressured into completing one last job to pay off his debt to Mafioso families in the area. Driver ends up helping Standard in a Pawn Shop robbery but the job goes poorly. Soon afterwards, Driver is blamed for the botched robbery and becomes a marked man. Driver is faced with predicament of defending his own life while also attempting to help Irene escape from the mob underworld.
If you can’t already tell, Drive is a very character-driven story. The script requires demanding performances from every actor which is part of the reason why it starts off with such a fantastic first impression. Ryan Gosling has been floating around Hollywood for a while now (most people probably recognize him from The Notebook) but he hasn’t been able to show his true talent until now. In Drive, he’s the perfect mix of charming and likable along with psychotic and disturbed. Gosling has somewhat been placed in the “funny guy with a cute face” category of actors but he proves in Drive that there’s a lot more to his ability past good looks. He manages to convey the fact that there’s something seriously disturbed about The Driver but doesn’t throw it in your face thanks to the subtly of his performance and minimalistic dialog.
Speaking of which, the amount of dialog (or lack thereof) is very refreshing in a day and age where every other movie over-explains everything about itself. I read in an interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn that they started with eighty pages of dialog but managed to cut it down to sixteen. Most films have over a hundred pages of dialog with the majority of the lines being throw-away reiterations of knowledge already told to the viewer. Less dialog means you pay more attention to the words that are actually said and if no one is talking then your attention is focused on the visuals themselves, which is how it should be.
And if there’s any element of Drive that demands your attention it’s the visuals. I’ll admit, I’ve taken a few film classes before, so when I see directors utilize color motifs to identify what emotions should be invoked from a certain character, I geek out. I literally had to turn to my friend and say “Dude, Irene only wears the color red, did you notice that?” There’s also an abundance of shots that meticulously orchestrate how the lighting is done to reinforce themes about isolation. These are minute details that might be overlooked during a first viewing but add to subsequent second and third viewings. Also, it looks nice, which is a plus.
Of course, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, eventually Drive went from being my new favorite movie to an onslaught of pretentious clichés that almost made my eyes roll out of my head. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I realized the direction the film was going in, but it’s roughly past the half-way point. There wasn’t any particular moment where the film lost my interest altogether but instead it was a series of odd artistic choices that didn’t make any sense.
For example, despite being called “Drive,” there are only two car chases in the entire movie and both of them occur within the first forty minutes. For me, when a movie is called Drive, stars a guy with no identity other than the fact he can drive, every aspect of his life is related to cars and driving, I’d expect the fact that he can drive to be a little more important than a bullet point in the story. His one talent is never utilized to his advantage for the overall story.
The lack of driving contributes more-so to the film’s underwhelming anti-climax of an ending. There are a few pivotal turning points in the story that happen near the end, but you don’t actually see them happen. One is heavily implied but takes place off screen and the other is visualized by deciphering shadows on the ground as opposed to seeing the act itself. Imagine if the movie Kill Bill had Bill’s death occur off screen and you can start to understand the level of disappointment I had with the conclusion of Drive. The entire second half of the movie is filled with these types of unsatisfying story ends that left me baffled as to why they chose this direction for the film. It effectively takes everything I loved about the first half and ruined it.
As far as I could tell from my first viewing, there’s no “deeper meaning” to discover in Drive. It’s a bit cryptic with some of the character development and doesn’t divulge into every detail of every plot point or character but there also isn’t a sense that there’s a “bigger picture.” It’s a fairly straight forward story with some unconventional storytelling methods. Overall Drive depressed me, not because the movie was particularly sad, but because it built up my expectations only to crush them with no remorse. I loved the first half and I enjoyed the use of colors/lighting, so maybe if you brace yourself for the subpar second half and understand this movie has more in common with Road to Perdition than HEAT, you just might like it.
Red Band Trailer: Drive
You don't wear gloves like this unless you're planning on driving very, very fast.
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