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Spoiler Talk: Drive
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Noel Penaflor   |  
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Drive 01

Emma Stone.
Rose Byrne.
The talent black-hole that is Channing Tatum.
Natalie Portman.

When this year is over and done with, you’ll realize that every single movie released in 2011 headlined one of these actors, though, like you, I have yet to see Channing Tatum, actually “act” in a movie. With the exception of Tatum, seeing these stars over and over isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the projects they’ve appeared in have been good overall (sorry, Your Highness), and after October’s Ides of March, you can add Ryan Gosling to the Honorary Samuel L. Jacksons.

But before you can see Gosling and George Clooney compare abs in Ides, Gosling opens in this week’s 70ish thriller Drive. As befitting a person on the shortlist for Best Actor of His Generation, Gosling’s character in Drive is nothing like his reformed player in Crazy, Stupid Love or his possible cross-dressing murderer in last year’s excellent All Good Things. In fact, Gosling is THE reason to take the Drive, as he’s the best thing about the film, a deliberately paced (read: slow at times) throwback to 70’s noir thrillers when mood and character (read: lingering close ups) meant more than cheap gratification.

With Drive, Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn (“Every day is a winding refn”), from the novel by James Sallis and written by Hossien Amini, have created a character study that happens to contain outbursts of graphic violence. This might not suit mainstream audiences, but those with leveled expectations may find Drive resonates more than your average Nicolas Cage IRS paycheck thriller.

SPOILERS

Drive opens with Ryan Gosling playing…a character without a name in a colorless LA backdrop. As the credits roll, we see Gosling as a getaway driver for 2 men who’ve just completed a robbery. He’ so cool that you wouldn’t know he’s evading about a dozen LA cops who have been specifically instructed not to give him a pass because he’s white. The traffic copter doesn’t even faze him.

Before long, Driver and the anonymous robbers have completely eluded the cops, adroitly using an LA Clipper game as a backdrop.

You can tell this is make-believe because the movie actually has the Clippers winning. It’s more believable that Gosling could make the car fly or travel through time than the Clippers winning a game, but we’ll let it go because the movie isn’t set where the Cleveland Cavaliers play.

Driver has a day job…as a stunt driver for the movies. He’s also a mechanic who works for a guy named Shannon (Contagion‘s Bryan Cranston). Shannon wants to use Driver’s skill as a driver to make some real money racing cars.

Unfortunately, you need money to do that. So Shannon makes nice with a local gangster named Bernie (Albert Brooks) to stake him about 300 grand. Now Shannon and Driver are in hoc to Bernie, and his hotheaded partner Nino (Ron Perlman, saying “˜fuck’ every other word). Shannon knows this is a sweet deal, because as a driver, no one can touch Driver. And from what everyone has seen, it’s true.

Drive 02

Meanwhile, Driver is hoping for a Meet Cute with the attractive single mom Irene (Oscar Nominee Carey Mulligan) and her little boy Benicio. That Meet Cute is staged when Irene’s car overheats and Driver has to take them home and carry their groceries. Driver’s pimp plan is foiled when he deliberately leaves Benicio on the curb so he can spend time with Irene. Unfortunately, Irene is a caring mom and allows Benicio to stay in the trunk.

You can tell there’s a mutual attraction between them, and Driver doesn’t even mind Irene’s kid.

Driver notices that Irene still has pictures of Benicio’s father in her apartment. Driver hopes that he is dead and that Irene keeps the pictures for sentimental reasons. Irene tells Driver that Benicio’s father is in jail. Well, jail is almost like death…in terms of marital status. Driver wonders if there’s chance he can still tap that.

Over the next couple of weeks we see Driver and Irene and Benicio bond through montage. We think that Driver is going to, to use a racing term, cross the finish line with Irene when…

…Irene reveals that her husband, Benicio’s father, Standard (Sucker Punch‘s Oscar Isaac) is getting out of jail in the next couple of days. Shrinkage for Driver. He cannot fathom why Irene would be married to someone with a name like Standard. It’s so much cooler to have no name at all so as to remain mysterious and brooding.

Standard returns, and Irene throws him a released-from-jail party. Driver is not invited. That’s okay, because Driver has just thrown himself a blue balls fiesta. Yay!

Driver and Irene run into each other in the hall. Driver can tell that Irene really isn’t all that thrilled to have Standard back, and it just isn’t because of the jail thing. Driver crosses his fingers behind his back.

Standard enters the hall with Benicio. He knows he’s interrupted something, and he’s more than a little pissed. He sees Irene look at Driver and know she’s thinking about that scene in Crazy, Stupid Love when Gosling takes off his shirt for Emma Stone. Standard goes off in a snit.

But Driver knows better than to break up a (relatively) happy home, so backs his dreamy eyes off of Irene and goes back to his day job.

Until one day Driver gets home and sees Standard beaten to a pulp. It turns out that Standard owed some protection money to keep himself from being a pincushion while he was in the pokey and now it’s time to pay up. The men who beat up Standard are also threatening his family, including little Benicio unless he does One Last Job. No Le gusta.

Standard’s payment requires him to rob a pawn shop along with Blanche, a stacked accomplice (Christina Hendricks buoyant as ever).

Driver agrees to help with the heist, if it gets Standard free and clear of debt, and puts Irene and Benicio out of danger.

So of course, everything goes off without a hitch and everyone lives happily after. Standard and Driver become tunnel buddies for Irene and Benicio wins an Oscar for Traffic. Gas goes below $3.40 a gallon and unemployment falls under 5%. Rainbows all around.

Not really though.

Drive 03

What works with Drive

1) Ryan Gosling’s best performance since…Crazy, Stupid Love. He’s in full badass mode, and it’s good to see him like that every once in while. His character doesn’t have a lot of dialogue in retrospect as he does a lot of talking with his fists…and a hammer. Driver ain’t no Notebook bitch in the rain and you can see he’d make a more than credible action hero with the right script. There are times when Drive flags, but Gosling doesn’t.

2) A small scene in an elevator is one of the best moments of September. When you see this on DVD, this scene will be replayed more than once as it’s funny/horrific, and more importantly, unexpected.

3) We’ve seen Albert Brooks play smarmy in Out of Sight, but I can’t remember a Brooks’ performance I’d describe as scary. Albert, we never knew you had it in you.

4) The 2 best reasons to see Drive: Christina Hendricks

What doesn’t work-

1) Because director Refn chose story over mindless action, there are times when Drive stalls, even for the most patient of viewers. Even I was wondering if I could watch Straw Dogs in the interim while Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan look at each other. But rest assured, patient viewers will be reward. After all, Refn won the Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, so he probably knows what he’s doing.

Overall. Those expecting Drive to be a high-octane wall-to-wall thriller may be very disappointed as I heard more than one person express WTF’s of disappointment upon leaving the screening. However, those of you who come into it as Gosling showcase will find yourself thinking about Drive on the drive home more than you’d expect. And of the 2 Christina Hendricks movies opening this weekend, see Drive, because I Don’t Know How She Does It is as awful as you’d expect.

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