(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn uses a European style to tell his story of a mechanic/ stunt-driver/getaway driver, played by Ryan Gosling, who finds a woman he wants and agrees to be getaway driver for the wrong heist. Refn's style is to draw out scenes to make a slow film punctuated with strong violence. This is a very dark action thriller, but ironically Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman steal the film. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

"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. " The speaker is the unnamed driver (Ryan Gosling) who has three jobs. He is a car mechanic, he is a film stunt driver, and he is a criminal getaway driver for hire. The film opens with a getaway and extended high-speed chase with police. The driver evades the police. Then the film goes to opening titles in pink pseudo-handwritten font as the camera lovingly lolls over Los Angeles high-rise buildings at dusk. It must be an image that director Nicolas Winding Refn liked because for some reason he returns to it again and again for reasons unclear. There are no scenes in the film set in one of these buildings. It is like Refn is repeating over and over, "I'm in Los Angeles. I'm in Los Angeles. Hey, look. I'm in Los Angeles."

The Driver lives in a dingy apartment building down the hall from the attractive Irene (Carey Mulligan of NEVER LET ME GO), who appears at first to be a single parent. As the Driver soon finds out she is married to a soon to be ex-convict. The husband owes a great deal of money to organized crime figures and is being told to pay it back by robbing a specific pawnshop at a specific time. Eventually the Driver agrees to help the husband gratis by driving in the robbery.

DRIVE, like Refn's previous film VALHALLA RISING, is built from long, slow, and frequently dialog-free scenes. The look is everything. We are left to guess what is in the Driver's mind. Sometimes we can guess, but Gosling has an impassive face and we are just guessing. His overall plan is not clear. Being willing to drive a getaway car without reward seems to go beyond the bounds of just being neighborly. Not only are his motivations unclear, his background is equally mysterious. He seems supernaturally lucky in chases and fights and always comes out on top in spite of the odds. Apparently without benefit of CIA or British Secret Service training he always seems to best his opponents. This is a film with some long slow stretches mixed in with spectacular car chases and some really graphic violence.

Ryan Gosling seems to have a face impassive enough that it could convey just about any emotion going on behind that face. It works in lieu of much screen chemistry between Gosling and Mulligan. Any chemistry there is mostly on Mulligan's part. Gosling seems to be very much the flavor of the month as an actor. Last year and this he has also been in BLUE VALENTINE; ALL GOOD THINGS; CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE; and THE IDES OF MARCH. The IMDB also lists him for two future projects from Refn, including a remake of LOGAN'S RUN. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman play a hood and his beefy henchman. I was used to seeing Brooks in comedic roles. Here he is almost ruthless but oddly principled. He is able to play off of his image to surprise the audience, not unlike Alan Arkin did in WAIT UNTIL DARK. His and Perlman's performances really are the most magnetic in the film.

The plotting of DRIVER is nothing new, but it does have some convolutions that perhaps will surprise audiences. I rate DRIVER a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper