Friday Fisticuffs: Drive (2011)

Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive turned out to be a much different movie than I expected. I tried to avoid most talk about the film because I wanted to see if, but my baby-watching schedule doesn’t allow much time for theater-going anymore. I somehow got the impression that it was an awesome, full throttle action movie that looked moody and had a soundtrack that people really dug. That’s about half right.

First up the movie, starring the very excellent Ryan Gosling, is much slower than I anticipated. After hearing the Driver list his rules (which you can see on the poster) I figured this would be a more stylish version of The Transporter with Gosling doing a job that goes wrong and the following him as he tries to make it right or take out his enemies. And that’s sort of what it’s about, but wrapped around this idea that he falls for Carey Mulligan’s character and decides to help her husband out of some trouble with some mobsters. Most of the moments with Gosling and Mulligan are spent in silence which is fine, it conveys a sense of trust and comfortableness that I understand, but they also slowed things way down for a movie I thought was going to be much faster pace.

Things do pick up at the end when the job with her husband goes bad and Gosling goes on his rampage. It’s the kind of story point I honestly did not get. Why does he care so much? Because his crush’s husband got messed up? Is that enough reason to completely go after all the underworld people you work for? I listened to Refn talk to Jeff Goldsmith on his excellent podcast The Q & A (listen here or do a search on iTunes) and he said that this showed how Godling’s character was kind of a classical hero, one who would do anything for a person he cares for even if it’s not necessarily reciprocal. I guess I buy that, but it’s not something I thought of while watching the movie and kind of stuck in my craw for the last half or so.

This rampage includes a fire fight with shotguns, a head getting blown off, dudes getting hammered in the legs in strip clubs, double stabbings and a few other scenes that were bloodier than I expected and therefore awesome. I wouldn’t really call this a fight-scene heavy movie though as it’s mostly more grounded and real world attacks that either get fended off or do their job. I’ll be honest, some of the things Gosling’s character does surprised me, especially with how far he went, but as Refn said in the interview, he’s a man living on the outside of society who’s a sociopath, but still wants to be part of things.

I think I was mostly thrown on this film. It feels uneven. It starts off and seems like it’s supposed to be a capital A awesome movie, something like the aforementioned Transporter series or maybe even Crank. I mean, he has a list of rules and wears a shiny jacket with a scorpion on it and those funny looking driving gloves that have knuckle holes. He pulls a wild job and then you see the credits which are presented in hot pink cursive and the music comes in and you’re like YES, LET’S GO ON THIS RIDE, DRIVE! Then we get a very quite “getting to know you” movie for much longer than I expected. So, I think I was thrown by equal parts pieces of things I’d heard and the film switching gears (pun!) unexpectedly. I think it would have been much better going into this movie knowing absolutely nothing because my expectation were playing tricks on me. I will say that the film was full of surprises, as, after all the nice relationship stuff, I did not expect heads to explodes or knees to get bashed in so graphically with hammers. Anyone seen Refn’s other movies like Bronson or the Pusher flicks? I’m curious if they’re as diverse in tone as this one.