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Somewhere around Season Five of The Sopranos, mob boss Tony Soprano asks his psychiatrist, “Whatever happened to the strong, silent type?” Here’s one answer to that question: Ryan Gosling’s performance in Drive. Awkwardly taciturn in many scenes and utterly wordless in others, Gosling’s nameless Driver has a ruthless economy of both word and action. As an action movie, Drive is patiently paced; as a love story and character study, it is almost too sparse to parse. Since this is TTAC, however, we’ll mostly talk about the cars and the driving…
This is what we know about the Driver: he is a skilled mechanic, he works as part-time Hollywood stunt wheelman, he lives alone, he prefers not to talk. He also works as a getaway driver with a very strict set of rules: he will be on-site for five minutes, he doesn’t touch a gun or assist with the crime, and he’d rather not hear any details. The tense opening scene, which can be seen in most of the online trailers, pits the Driver against the cops, but his tools are stealth and intelligence, not high speed or daring driving.
Once that character establishment is complete, we see that the Driver may have a chance to do some stock car racing — but in order to do so, he will have to get closer to two local mobsters, played with absolute, scene-chewing relish by Ron Perlman (of course) and Albert Brooks. I’m a long-time Brooks fan. It’s always been interesting to watch his “normal” movies and see how hard he works to minimize his physical size and presence on-camera. In this movie, the man is free to become the Jewish gangster we always wanted him to be, and the results of that transformation would make the movie worth watching even if nothing else of note happened.
There has to be a love interest, of course, but it’s not the pixie-ish girl next door. Rather, it is her son. We understand somehow that the Driver can never be a father himself. Too much danger, too much drama, and too much involvement with unreliable third parties. After all, what is parenthood, except a continuing criminal enterprise with partners who may or may not go crazy at any moment? When he takes up with the neighbor, he may touch her hand or look at her longingly, but the true love scene in the movie is a part where the Driver takes the girl and her son through some of the same kinds of California drainage ditches (or whatever they are) we see in “Terminator 2″. It’s a scene which makes you think that he is about to find a family. Although this is an “R” rated film, there is barely a suggestion of sex. What the Driver wants is simple: to belong. This, like Fast Five, eschews bedroom scenes in order to focus on what Robert Bly called “the shortage of father in America.” A father without a son meets a son without a father, and of this stuff are happy endings made.
Naturally, it doesn’t work that way. The girlfriend’s husband is released from prison, and before long it’s time to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of high-speed driving, hammers to the forehead, and busty redheads being shot in the face. Alright. Let’s talk cars.
This is very much a Big Three movie. The car in the opening scenes is a “300 horsepower” current-generation Impala, identified (probably wrongly) as “the best-selling car in California.” It doesn’t appear to be the 5.3L SS. Perhaps it’s the new 2012 DI V-6. The noise it makes once on the move, however, is very V-8ish.
There’s an ARCA-style stock car, which finishes the Driver’s short-oval session with “tread still on the tires.” I know.
Next we have the man’s ride itself, a 1973 Chevelle. This site offers a few neat facts about the car. For me, it was enough to see the maligned “Colonnade” cars get some well-deserved love. Rest assured that if your humble author ever follows Brock Yates into the screenwriting business, I will get a ’77 Cutlass Supreme in the movie somehow. Honestly, it was past time for one of these to get a starring role somewhere, particularly after the competing Gran Torino appeared in the movie of the same name. Take a Colonnade Coupe and a current Continental GT to an alien planet where nobody’s ever seen a rap video and see which one gets more love for styling and street presence.
Finally, there is the main action sequence of the movie, which features a five-liter 2011 Mustang automatic and a tuned-up previous-gen 300C. The big stunt involves a handbrake spin, full-throttle driving in reverse, and a luridly-executed J-turn. A few of my friends asked me to evaluate the “realism” of the sequence. Plainly speaking, there isn’t any. In a real-life, full-tilt, American-V8 chase, assuming any such things exist outside my own imagination, the Driver’s actions wouldn’t work. It’s a pair of very low-speed moves executed and filmed to appear as they are happening at a hundred miles per hour. I’m not buying it, and they shouldn’t be selling it. Having the plot hinge on such a lousy maneuver is unfortunate.
Oh well. To some degree, that car chase serves as the dividing line between the first half of the movie, which is largely plausible, and the increasingly unrealistic second half. A true Hollywood ending would betray the spirit of Drive, but what we do get somehow fails to satisfy on any level. It doesn’t really matter. Two thumbs up. Go see it, although you may have to look at your local second-run theatre to see it; Drive didn’t last thirty days at most of the major chains. This isn’t a movie which relies on the magic of the big screen to work. Should you have to wait for Netflix, it still worth waiting for, if only to see one of the very few strong, silent heroes in recent memory.