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Drive (2011 film)

A 2011 film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and based on the novel by James Sallis.

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The Man with No Name in a Film with No Purpose

  • Sep 17, 2011
Star Rating:

In Drive, Ryan Gosling plays a man who isn’t given a proper name. He’s known only as Driver. It’s a fitting description, given the way cars factor into his daily life. By day, he works for a mechanic named Shannon (Bryan Cranston) and is an occasional Hollywood stunt driver. By night, he’s a wheelman for criminals in need of a quick getaway. Although he’s not a warrior in the traditional sense, Driver is as starkly developed as a samurai – narrowly focused, deeply committed, an expert at what he does, and completely impenetrable. Well, almost completely; although his face never changes expression apart from the occasional smirk, and although he so rarely says what he feels (you can count on one hand the number of lines Gosling delivers), he opens himself emotionally for his neighbor, a woman named Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her young son, Benicio (Kaden Leos), both of whom will inevitably wind up in danger.
Warriors are traditionally elusive and sealed, which is part of their mystique. But there’s a very fine line between mystique and underdevelopment, and I think this movie crosses it. Not only is Driver maddeningly unsolvable, he also has no plausible reason for being the way he is. When it comes to a samurai character, suspension of disbelief is easy; the audience is free to assume that he has been conditioned his entire life in the ways of an assassin. The same cannot be said for a man trained to do J-turns and powerslides. When it comes to someone like that, a behavioral explanation is mandatory. Exactly who was Driver before moving to Los Angeles? On the basis of what he does during the latter portions of the film, the possibilities are more than a little disturbing. But therein lies the problem: They’re only possibilities. What I really wanted, above all else, was something concrete.

So far as I can tell, Driver is a deus ex machina – a character at the mercy of a contrived situation he has no connection with. If there are any personal reasons for his vested interest in Irene and Benicio, they have been kept from the audience. Regardless, he’s dropped into the middle of their drama and works tirelessly towards freeing them from it. It starts when Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is released from prison; although he clearly loves his family and has promised never to get back into a life of crime, an unpaid debt threatens his life and the lives of his wife and child. Driver decides to help by masterminding a heist. I will not divulge specifics, but as is the case with most movies of this sort, something goes horribly wrong. In due time, two notorious mob bosses (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman) have put a contract on Driver. It’s not just a matter of saving Irene and Benicio; now he must also save himself.
Drive, adapted from the novel by James Sallis, is a slow, improbable, manufactured, unrewarding action thriller that’s highly inconsistent in tone. It begins as an unsolvable character study, one that gets murkier once Mulligan factors into the equation. She and Gosling play characters who exhibit none of the emotions that are supposedly drawing them together. They’re falling in love, and yet it’s for reasons known only to them – or, more accurately, to the filmmakers. Every line they deliver to one another is a strained, almost passive aggressive attempt at keeping their true feelings hidden; I could only take this for so long before desperately wishing that one of them would directly say something, anything, to the other. The film eventually devolves into a brutal crime drama, depicting acts of violence that would be far better suited for a grindhouse exploitation film.

There isn’t much to Perlman’s character, who can only be counted on to look like a gigantic brute and swear like a sailor. There is, however, a saving grace in the casting of Brooks, who handles his role well despite not typically being associated with action thrillers or mob dramas. And then there’s the car chase sequence, a skillful combination of special effects, editing, and sound effects. I grant you its technical merits. That being said, I must admit that car chases in general don’t do very much for me. Apart from the rather showy display of stunt work, they contribute absolutely nothing to a story. In my mind, they belong on the same shelf with martial arts and synchronized swimming – spectacles that exist for no reason other than to be themselves.
But it seems that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Apart from the glowing prerelease reviews, the film was a major hit at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, earning a nomination for the coveted Palme d’Or and a Best Director win for Nicolas Winding Refn. Since I apparently don’t get it, you’d probably be better off trusting someone else’s opinion. For my money, Drive does not have a reason for being, apart from an excuse to resurrect the Man with No Name. Such characters are difficult for me to buy into, in part because they live by ambiguous moral codes, but mostly because they thrive on tiresome story setups that have no basis in reality. In the case of Driver, I might have forgiven him his status as a plot device if I had been allowed to know him on a deeper level. That’s the funny thing about characters – the more you know about them, the more they resonate.


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March 15, 2012
A film with no purpose? This is a character study. I watched it once and understood that; and watching it twice only helped to support such a belief. I loved the film; and how you could analyze the character of the Driver from a few different angles. He is clearly a character homage to The Man With No Name, but if we abandon such memories of great cinema, he is a man with some sort of social deficiency; he shows signs of Asperger's Syndrome. I thought it was a very interesting, stylistically flawless film. One of 2011's best. A perfect marriage of image, sound, and acting.
March 15, 2012
I knew as soon as I saw your Facebook post that I would be hearing from you about this film. Rather than argue over it, I think we should just agree to disagree and move on.
October 03, 2011
Always appreciate your honest reviews :) I actually do want to catch this one though, just because I like Ryan Gosling. Thanks for sharing!
September 18, 2011
whoa. Seems like as with Contagion, this film is getting mixed reviews here. I'll comment further once I've seen it tomorrow...
September 18, 2011
Mixed reviews on Lunch, maybe. Just about everywhere else, the praise it has earned has been overwhelming. I personally don't get it. It's not that good a movie.
September 18, 2011
Yeah, I know. It is making me curious. I was thinking of skipping this one, but I think I'll take a chance tomorrow....
September 18, 2011
I have a feeling this movie will be a critics darling that general audiences won't care much about. It's definitely an arthouse movie, and as such, it will appeal mainly to genre fanboys. Then again, I could be wrong.
More Drive (2011 film) reviews
review by . March 15, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****    A lone, unnamed driver (Ryan Gosling) takes a nightly stroll through Los Angeles; with the illuminating city lights making way for the path that is the road. The Driver parks his vehicle in front of an anonymous building; and two masked men nearby proceed to enter. They emerge with a bag full of cash. They get into the Driver's car. He takes them to a parking garage; never speaking to them on the way. They don't know his name, and neither do we; but that doesn't …
review by . October 19, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
  Drive is a “love-it-or-hate-it” kind of movie, fortunately though I love it enough for several theaters full of those that full into the latter category. It’s admittedly mismarketed, and its art house sensibilities along with its strong emphasis on style is going to push plenty away expecting a more traditional thriller. However for those of us on the nerdier side of the film fence, “Drive” is the film equivalent of taking LSD, it’s simply a dream. The …
review by . September 19, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Honestly, I wasn’t really expecting much when I went to see “Drive” but I knew for certain that it was one of those art house movies that critics usually like. At first impression, I thought I was going to be in for one of those movies like “The Driver” (1978) kind of deal, or something similar to Luc Besson’s “The Transporter”. I became curious because of the mixed reviews here, and to put everything in a nutshell, it feels more like “Le Samourai“ …
review by . September 14, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'Drive' 'Two Jews On Film' Think This Over The Top Thriller Stalls (Video)
      Ryan Gosling is 'Driver'.  He drives...fast...very fast...If you're a burglar, he's your go-to guy.  Just make sure you get the job done in five minutes.  Because that's all you got...One minute late, Driver is gone.      Now, driving a get-a-way car is Driver's night job.   His day job is slightly more glamorous.  Driver is a stunt driver for movies...That is, when he's not working as a mechanic, …
review by . September 15, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Ryan Gosling is capable of almost anything, and has left little doubt that he is one of the brightest stars in Hollywood. He has can play the heartthrob and romantic like in TheNotebook, he can be a heart breaker like inBlue Valentine, he can be funny and charming like in Crazy, Stupid, Love. In the last movie mentioned he stepped out of his comfort zone and tried a comedy. He is often very adventurous in his roles and always knocks then out of the park. In Drive he seems to …
review by . September 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
   After you'll finish watching Drive you'll know you just watched something special, something rarely seen on the big screen. Drive takes all the classic elements of passionate filmmaking and revives them with a new modern look, sound and atmosphere that will keep you excited like a little kid on the edge of your seat. Audience's reaction to this is diverse. Some claim that the movie is too pretentious, some claim that the movie is silly and doesn't have enough action, …
review by . September 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Hyper Drive
DRIVE Written by Hossein Amini Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks and Albert Brooks   Irene: What do you do? Driver: I drive.   Every now and again, a movie comes along and takes you for a ride you don’t soon forget. It straps you in with its fresh cinematic voice and doesn’t let you go until it has raced through your mind, taken some crazy turns and pulled back into the garage again.  When …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie



Movies, Movie, Drama, Review, Crime Drama, Julian Left, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ryan Gosling, Ron Perlman, Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn, Christina Hendricks


Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Release Date: September 16, 2011
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Hossein Amini
Runtime: 100 minutes
Studio: FilmDistrict, Odd Lot Entertainment, Seed Productions
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