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by Nicolas Winding RefnThis is an old review by the person I used to be. I don't know this guy anymore, and I'm not sure you should listen to anything he says
In recent years I've seen a trend towards people raving about movies, which I then go and see, all expectant and excited, only to come away hugely disappointed. One of the reasons I was so pleased about 'The Hurt Locker' sweeping the oscars was that I really liked that film, and was pleased to see that other people did too, so I wasn't a complete weirdo.
The latest is 'Drive'. Now, this is a movie that the great and the good have been feting as a masterpiece. Many 'top ten best movies of 2011' that I've seen put it at number one. Number one, best of the best. And understand, this is exactly my kind of movie: desperate criminals, tense getaway driving, noir/punk visuals, fast women and hot cars, mundane lives that nevertheless have a hint of cosmic tragedy, this is exactly the kind of film that would appeal to a middle-aged single male who doesn't get out enough, so I got this for myself as a treat.
It starts well, with a tense getaway from an armed robbery, Ryan Gosling's protagonist listening in on the police radio as he drives, thinking he's given them the slip and then hearing "We've got a visual" and having to race for it. The opening also introduces one of the strongest performers in the movie, the soundtrack, and that's not to say the actors are anything other than excellent, but the soundtrack is just great. But already, for me, the rot is starting to set in, because here we are in a car-chase in another american city. I've seen this a lot. A real lot. I've seen it a lot because I like these movies, but I found myself thinking "Just for once I wish this was 'Grand Theft Auto: Mumbai' or 'Grand Theft Auto: West Bromwich'.
It continues well when he meets his next-door-neighbor, Carey Mulligan, who manages to be luminously plain, by which I mean she's not made-up to look like something made out of pixels as women on the silver screen so often are, she looks like someone who might really be living next door to you. She's lit from within by the personality that Ms Mulligan breaths into the role. The acting in Carey and Ryan's scenes together is amazing, they take dialog the is just factual and flat (and is no doubt intended to be so) and act life into it, Ms Mulligan expressing more with her eyebrows than many lesser mortals can do with entire scenes of dialogue, and Gosling playing the 'creepy innocent': he might be good, he might be dangerous. In fact everyone is bringing their 'A' game here, every performance is excellent.
But... well, none of the characters are at all surprising. There's 'the kid' who is the supremely good driver, there's the 'the mentor', who is grooming the kid for greatness, there's 'the girl next door' who is also 'the damsel in distress', theres hoodlums, there's hookers, theres...
And they're all played well, but as characters they're very flat. The only one I actually cared about was Oscar Isaac's ex-con husband who's trying to turn good, but who... yes, stop me if you've heard it before... can't escape his past.
The one false note, for me, in the movie is 'Blanche', a ganster's-moll/streetwalker type who gets used as a bag-carrier in an armed robbery. She didn't strike me a someone well suited to armed robbery, and at first I thought this was because an expectation was being set up in me that was going to then be blown out of the water, and I was well up for seeing that. But it never happened. Blanche turns up to the robbery in six-inch heels (really, who turns up to a robbery in stillettos?) Goes in, collects the money, comes out... and nothing really happens that involves her. But then you discover she's only there to play out a later scene that's a reference to 'The Driver'.
And that's probably the biggest issue with this movie. I like things that reference other works, I like playing the game of spotting the references, but this felt like it was nothing but a lot of references strung together. There was very little here that I'd not seen someplace else, and nothing that really took me be surprise.
The film is very open about the debt it owes to such works as TheDriver and 'Miami Vice', and I detect hints of 'Le Samorai' and 'Taxi Driver' too. But the thing is that it starts to feel like we're slavishly working through an established formula. You know there's going to be the obligatory scene in a strip-club, and there is, with a load of young women stood about with their boobs on display. I never thought I'd say this, but boobs have gotten boring when used in scenes like this, do we really have to have the strip-club scene? The kid winds up with some money that belongs to 'the mob'. Someone gets killed, and the kid has to go on a revenge rampage. Fortunately he proves to be a one-man army. How come? I don't know, he just does, there's never any hint that he used to be in the marines or trained in the Shaolin temple, maybe it's expected that the audience will take that for granted, given how familar the whole thing is. By this time I really didn't care much. This is a movie with absolutely no new ideas.
So, there you have it. This is a movie with many good things, but you've probably already seen it before in one form or another. It's one you watch, enjoy reasonably well, and then never watch again. It's not something groundbreaking, and it's not last year's best movie, in fact I'd doubt it really belongs in the top ten.