Over the last year, I’ve come to really enjoy the work of Ryan Gosling. He was an actor that I never really got. I didn’t find his ticks and slow mumbling line delivery appealing in the least.
Then something happened. I’m not sure if it was his performances or if it was a change in me, but over the last 12 months, I have started to “get” all the praise that has been heaped on him.
First was his searing and revelatory turn in BLUE VALENTINE, which was the single greatest performance given by a male actor last year, then came a sly and comic turn in the recent CRAZY STUPID LOVE, a film I had a lot of problems with, but Ryan Gosling was the bright spot in it for me.
Now I have witnessed what, for me, is the greatest imitation of Steve McQueen ever attempted by an actor and he pulls it off in the sublime and brilliant DRIVE.
Ryan Gosling plays a nameless Stunt driver in Los Angeles who moonlights on the side as a getaway driver for various heists and robberies.
This is set up in the first minutes of the film in a way that is so effortless that anyone who has ever put pen to paper and tried to tell a story will be left in awe.
He tells the equally nameless thief’s on the phone “I give you five minutes. Anything that happens in that five minutes, I’m yours. Anything happens a minute on either side, you’re on your own. I don’t carry a gun. I don’t get out of the car. I drive.”
And does he ever drive. It’s not just the stunts and the chases that he’s good at. He’s smart and cunning as a getaway driver. He knows when to lay low. He knows which streets to take, which to avoid. His ever present police scanner at his side, humming just below the baseball game on the radio.
When he becomes friendly with his comely neighbor, played by Carrey Mulligan, and her sweet little boy, you can sense that trouble is coming. When her husband, who is in jail, gets released and brings home a dark secret of his own, you think you know what that trouble is going to be.
The highest praise I can give this film is that you are both right and wrong. The husband is bringing trouble, but this film never goes where you think it’s going to. It always surprises and thrills you by taking a left just as you’re sure it’s going right.
Much has been made of Albert Brooks blistering turn in the film as a villain and it is defiantly worth all the talk. He is both charming and scary as an aging crime boss who has all his choices taken away from him as the film progresses.
There is a very real feeling of dread as the movie unfolds and that is one of the things that I loved so much about it. This is not, as the trailers and TV ads would have you believe, a non stop action film. It is a slow burn and as the film progresses, you can feel the screws turning ever tighter for both the driver and everyone around him.
This is a film that owes a huge debt to the late 70’s and early 80’s films of Michael Mann and Brian De Palma. The first forty-five minutes lull you into a kind of security with the quiet looks between Gosling and Mulligan and really between Gosling and pretty much everyone else. He is a man of very few words. I don’t know the actual count, but I would guess he speaks less than fifty words until the last act of the film.
This sense of security is shattered by sudden acts of violence that are stunning and all the more scary because they are the natural escalation of what we’ve been watching.
We can sense that Ryan Gosling’s character has violence in him in the same way we can sense that any hero in any film has it in him to act when he is pushed beyond the breaking point. We’ve seen in in a thousand films from DEATH WISH to FIRST BLOOD and countless others.
When Gosling does act, he kills with the same ruthless efficiency that we’ve seen him drive. He knows the best and most direct route to taking someone down as well as he knows the streets he’s driving on.
Remember how people talked about the ear cutting scene in RESEVOIR DOGS? How it was this amazing scene that you just had to see to believe? This film has one of those kinds of scenes. I will just refer to it as the Elevator scene.
There are three people on an elevator, Gosling, Mulligan and someone there to hurt her. What happens next will either horrify you, make you cheer or, like me, make you feel both ways at once.
This is that kind of film.
It’s like the entire cast and crew got into a time machine and went back to 1979 and made this film, then buried it in a vault and came back to the present and went back to their lives. Then, someone found the film, and released it.
It is a film from the past. From the credits to the synth- pop soundtrack to the way it’s filmed. Even the shots and the camera angles. It’s a film that never gets in a hurry.
In a lot of ways, it feels like a movie I would have snuck downstairs and watched at 2am on HBO back in 1981. I mean that in the absolute best way possible.
As a movie, it’s a breath of fresh air. An actual adult thriller. Not because it’s filled with sex and nudity, it’s not. Not because it’s filled with graphic violence and language. It is. But because it’s made for people who know how to sit still and let a film happen in it’s own time and way.
This film floored me. It absolutely kicked my butt.
I could not be happier.
Until next time, keep the projector threaded