Drive arrives with its credentials of cool all set: a hot star (Ryan Gosling) in the lead, a smart supporting cast, a Best Director prize from the Cannes Film Festival, and a stylish retro-noir look. These assets may hoodwink some audiences who don’t stop—or want to stop—to explore the emptiness of the movie or its incoherency.
Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has chosen style over substance. The screenplay (by Hossein Amini, from a novel by James Sallis) would have you believe that its main character is existential when it seems to me he’s—
—just not very bright. In an early, expository scene, Gosling explains to a customer on the phone how he works as a getaway driver and what he requires. After that, for reasons unexplained, he seems incapable of uttering a complete sentence.
He is also presented as an innocent—after we see him ferrying a pair of burglars from the scene of their crime. Later, he displays a daunting, and also unexplained, skillset with a variety of deadly weapons. Don’t ask for logic when a movie looks good.
Even extreme, painfully graphic violence is OK, it would seem, if it’s done so operatically that it matches the film’s stylized approach. So be it.
Where others see artistry, I see pretentiousness: in Gosling’s blank stares and the staging of scenes in appropriately seamy L.A. locations. The costarring cast is strong, including Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac, and the always-welcome Albert Brooks as a well-spoken, well-heeled goon.
Vintage film noirs didn’t have to work so hard to get their points across, visually and verbally. For me, Drive is all attitude, punctuated by unpleasant bursts of violence. If that’s what passes for cutting-edge filmmaking, or storytelling, we’re in trouble.