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Drive movie review: Good guy, bad guys, cute girl, cars

Thu, 08 Sep 2011

"What do you do?" she asks.

"I drive."

That's the name of the movie, Drive. The name of the hero, played with world-record reserve by Ryan Gosling, is even better. His name? Driver.

There are good stunts, a few great chase scenes and a couple of classic muscle cars that have supporting roles in Drive--hence the reason we at Autoweek got a preview of it. But it's the unadorned minimalist dialogue and character-driven story that is the draw.

Gosling's character is a stuntman by day and getaway driver by night, cruising the darkened streets of an alternately familiar and suddenly dangerous Los Angeles in a 1973 Chevy Malibu. His delivery is so stark and understated that we know nothing about him except what he does. He drives. There is nobody who speaks with such economy of prose and takes such long pauses before stating the words Driver eventually chooses to use. With his Easter Island face never cracking, he's Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen, a modern reinterpretation of the Western hero who lives by his own code of conduct and, ultimately, vengeance.

He comes into the movie in a Chevy but could just as easily have ridden a horse. Early on, we hear his spiel, delivered to a potential client: "If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I'm yours no matter what. I don't sit in while you're running it down; I don't carry a gun . . . I drive."

After he completes a job, he gets a new cell phone and a new address. When he moves into Apt. 405 (just like the freeway) he meets Carey Mulligan, the ultimate girl next door, so pure, impish and innocent that if she got any more so she'd be made of terracotta and placed on the front lawn with a pointy gnome hat.

She is reserved, too. She has an adorable son and everything looks set for them to form the perfect family, minus any unnecessary talking ("How was your day?" "Good.")

But Mulligan has a husband, and the husband's in jail, due out in a week. So just as things are looking good for the Gosling/Mulligan/Cute Kid family to blossom, it all goes to hell when the husband gets out. Pursued by nasty mobsters, played superbly against type by Albert Brooks (who was sitting two rows in front of us at the screening) and perfectly within type by Ron Perlman, these guys are nasty. This nastiness is shown onscreen in massively horrific murders, each countered by Driver, though Driver only does it because he has to.

There is a lot of blood, guts and brains spilled, one extended-play face stomping, a couple slashings and a guy who gets a fork stuck in his eye. And some guys who get crushed by cars, shot, forcibly drowned etc., etc. So you might want to wait for the airplane version.

But see it anyway. With or without the violence, it's the perfect Western/hero/revenge story, missing only Shane riding off into the sunset. But as it is, it's a great movie that just happens to have some cool cars.

Drive opens Sept. 16.

By Mark Vaughn