MOVIES IN REVIEW: DRIVE
We have a winner in the Aaron Sorkin Memorial First Great Vastly Overhyped Film of the Year Sweepstakes. And this time around the winner is not a bloated Hollywood production, but a bloated indie production. Congratulations to the cast and crew of Drive and to everyone who labeled this a breathtaking, life-changing, OMG YOU CANT BELIEVE IT film.
Hours after having seen it, it’s hard to sort out how I would have felt about the movie had I not been told so often how amazing it was. I think I would have thought, that was an interesting little film nerd homage thing with a handful of good but far from astounding performances. But given that I did see it with a full serving of hype in my belly, let me try and sort out the issues that seem to be causing so much indigestion:
• The story: Yes, sure they are doing a classic noir story. That’s terrific. Love it if there were more of them. That said, it’s a pretty workaday unextraordinary noir plot. It feels like one of Hammett’s less fleshed out short stories, or the outline for one, stretched into two hours. The great thing about long sequences of people staring at each other is it lets you stretch out a humdrum little outline into two hours. But there’s hardly an interesting or intriguing twist to be found in the story. According to many reviews, the twists keep you on the edge of your seat. If twists = how is he going to hit this guy, then I suppose it had great twists. Other than that, every turn was strictly by the numbers.
• The tone. Some reviewers have called it Lynchian. Others talk of a modern Jean Pierre Melville piece. That is a pretty big gap, and I saw both of those, with lots of Michael Mann, Paul Schrader, Monte Hellman, Jim Jarmusch and half a dozen others thrown in. For me, the film couldn’t decide whether it was a tongue in cheek satire in the Lynchian vein (the Jewish mob pizza parlor, the funny jacket) or a self-serious drama of the Michael Mann, so it just through in smattering of both. Yes, it looked stylish. There were a couple scenes, like the elevator, where he did something that really gripped you. But most of the borrowed tone I felt I had seen done better elsewhere. Most of the time, I would have rather been watching American Gigolo with an actual Giorgio Moroder soundtracker.
• The point (or lack thereof). Long silences can contain great profundity. But still waters do not necessarily run deep. As with, say, Tarantino, the whole equals less than the sum of its parts. When you get past all the pyrotechnics here, what is he saying? I can think of a few obvious pretentious points that are intimated but in the end, those are slogans not meanings. There is the posturing towards big thoughts here, which makes the extremes of the violence all the more hard to stomach if it’s not serving some bigger purpose. The awareness of the director going for gruesome shock value completely undermined the cool detachment, showing it all just to be contrived posturing.
• The Acting. I admire all of the actors in this movie. I am very pro all of them. I don’t think any of them were given anything especially interesting to do. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan staring at each other is fun, but it never goes farther than that, a fun moment of flirtation and connection. And that’s not the hardest trick to pull off in the cinema - to show people looking at each other and establish a connection. Look, if you are in love with Ryan Gosling, I can’t argue with that anymore than I can argue with teenagers who think the Twilights are great movies because they are in love with Robert Pattinson. But as one who is not in love with Gosling, this was not a character that I’ll remember and puzzle over forever, unlike his character in Blue Valentine which I think about constantly.
• The setting. I didn’t buy any of it for a second. Unlike the great noirs, I did not feel brought into a sinister subterranean. The entire world - from the pizza serving jewish gangsters, to the track suit wearing strip club owner - felt like a contrivance. Again, the uneven level of realism of the tone had me scrambling. There were neither any realistic seeming details to make the gangster convincing, nor was the world fleshed out fully enough to truly immerse you. The entire auto/driving world was mentioned in passing rather than shown. For a movie very much about a specific place, it didn’t even get Los Angeles geography right - showing him living in Pico Union but saying he works on Reseda Blvd - a thousand miles away. Cutting between mid-city and the far Valley seeming to imply they are the same place, and thus missing a world of ethnic subtleties and social strata.
• The Action. For a movie called Drive, it didn’t even have great chase sequences. The one at the opening was pretty good, more for its atmospherics than its action. The only other car chase last for 45 seconds and was basically down one stretch of road.
Other then all that, I more or less liked it. It kept chugging along. It tried, at least, to be a real movie, but I can’t help feeling that the world is projecting a great movie onto it where there wasn’t one actually there on the screen. But that is how you win the Sorkin Prize.
Rushfield Babylon recommendation: It’s okay. Three stars out of eight.