Cast: Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Rating: 4.5 stars
Finally, a noir film straight out of the art house action genre that Quentin Tarantino made so popular hits the theatres – sleek, stylish, and grisly enough to offer the audience an alternate reality, one that is so beyond one’s grasp that one doesn’t search for the logic.
Ryan Gosling, who has largely stuck to drama and only made a foray into comedy this year, seems completely at home as the reticent and nameless ‘Driver’ with an ironic half-smile and grim blue eyes. His Brando-esque drawl seems to have found its fit.
The kid can drive, and that’s all he does in the three part-time jobs he has in Los Angeles – as a stuntman, as a garage hand, and as a getaway man for robberies. His mentor Shannon (Bryan Cranston), whose involvement with a gang left him with a broken pelvis and a permanent limp, is the fixer. He makes the cars the kid crashes in the movies, he runs the garage, and he gets him the ‘jobs’.
Eager to break out of a risky business that makes him $30,000 a year, Shannon pitches the idea of getting into stock-car racing to a couple of men who are part of the local mafia – Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman). He has the kid, they have the money.
It all looks good, till the girl enters the scene. Irene (Carey Mulligan), is an innocent-looking, temporarily single mom, whose is strangely reminiscent of Fabienne from Pulp Fiction. She lives on the same floor as the Driver, and just as he begins to hang out with her and her little son, her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) wraps up his prison term.
A turn of events leads the Driver to partner Standard and a gangsta chick Blanche (Christina Hendricks) in an armed robbery, and a double-crossing spirals him into the middle of a world of organised crime, with the local mafia on one side, and the East Coast family on the other.
There begins a seamy, violent film whose bloody scenes will leave you either numb or retching. The film is unapologetically gruesome, substituting fist-fights for shootouts – why shoot someone when you can let off steam stabbing him in the eye with a fork, or trampling his neck to pulp?
But for all the incidental, colourful swearing thrown in and the macabre machismo of Drive, there is a lyrical quality to the screenplay and cinematography that draws you in slowly. The laconic, throaty soundtrack is skilfully used, and despite its unhurried pace, the movie has you hooked throughout. At times, the nocturnal scenes and the deliberate eye movements remind one of The Usual Suspects, which isn’t surprising, given that they share the cinematographer – Newton Thomas Sigel.
As a good old gangster story, the film is packed with heavy silences, leaving Gosling to fill it in with variations of a single, tough-guy expression. He’s up to the task, and never appears to be trying too hard. The only elements that seem a little out of the place are the toothpick dangling from the corner of his mouth throughout the movie, and the yellow scorpion sprawled across the back of his beige jacket.
The biggest downside for an Indian viewer is that, as in Gangs of New York and The Last King of Scotland, the pivotal scene happens in the presence of nudity – in a strip club. Despite its ‘A’-rating, God forbid that Indian adults should be exposed to the sight of a bunch of naked women. And so, thanks to the Censor Board, chances are that the audience may not figure out how the Driver tracks down the bad guys.
If you can get past that, the intensity of emotion, combined with the brutality of the action, makes for a must-watch. The end is refreshing, and will leave one with a pang. No spoilers from me. Book your tickets.