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COLUMN: ‘Drive’ is stylish, weird, unexpected

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By ERIC HARRIS, Film Reviewer

Every now and then something great happens in Hollywood. An interesting director makes enough great films overseas and he’s given a modest budget and a little star power and he gets to make whatever he wants out of a film. And then that film ends up playing on the big screen in an area as small as Perry County. I sat back unbelieving Sunday night as I watched Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film, “Drive” and witnessed one of the best films of the year … and I didn’t have to drive an hour to see it.

Refn has been making quality films since 1996’s “Pusher,” and recently he made his finest film to date – in my opinion, of course – with 2008’s “Bronson.” His films are not easily digestible as they feature graphic violence, strange soundtracks and plenty of awkward silences.

“Drive” continues that tradition as it features all three of those elements. Because of this, many people might simply dismiss this movie as “weird.” That’s easy enough, especially since the previews make it out to be some hardcore action flick.

It has action, but to call this an action movie is unfair.

Weird isn’t a bad thing, especially with some of the crap Hollywood churns out these days. “Drive” may not be a traditional film, but it has it where it counts. There are awkward silences and the soundtrack, which sounds like it belongs in an 80s thriller, may be out of left field, but it all comes together to make one stylish film.

“Drive” doesn’t seem so odd on the page, though. It’s about a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway man (Ryan Gosling) who falls for a damsel in distress (Carey Mulligan) but gets into trouble with the wrong men (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). It’s your standard story of a low-level criminal getting in way over his head. But it’s so much more than that thanks to what Refn and Gosling bring to the film.

Ryan Gosling has done well for himself lately, but he’s never really turned in a commanding physical performance. He’s stuck to these troubled characters who have issues operating in the real world. No problem there, since he handles that disconnected performance so well. In fact, he gives that same performance for much of “Drive” to the point that some people have speculated that his character is sociopathic. His strange, constant grin and ability to turn every moment into an awkward silence certainly makes for an interesting performance especially when he so seamlessly turns into a bad dude.

Gosling gets to go crazy in this film and it’s great. The film makes good use of his leather driving gloves and you can just feel (and hear) the tension every time he makes a fist. And every time he makes that fist you just know things are going to get violent. The violence is typical Refn: bloody, shocking, potentially disturbing…but perfectly reasonable for the story. The ultra-violence is acceptable for a film like this because it is meant to kick you in the face when you least expect it. Violence is standard in films these days but sometimes it can be put in there just to placate the bloodthirsty hordes. Sure, those hordes will like “Drive,” but with this caveat, “It was awesome, but man, it was slow and kind of weird.” Others will realize that the violence is there to shock you, not just entertain you. The scenes of violence are not treated trivially they are intense. But they do look amazing I never claimed I wasn’t part of the bloodthirsty hordes.

The title of the film may lead you to believe that the majority of the action of this film would take place on the road, but that is not the case. There are a few well-crafted getaway-chase sequences, but this film isn’t exactly a full-on car movie, though there are plenty of cool shots of the dash with Gosling’s intent eyes in focus in the rearview. The title of the film is more about the drive of Gosling’s character than it is about the physical act of driving, however. Some may be disappointed by the lack of cars and all, but there should be plenty there to keep people entertained.

“Drive” also has the benefit of an amazing cast. Aside from Gosling, Mulligan does a fine job silently communicating with him in plenty of scenes and she certainly comes across as a woman worth fighting for. Bryan Cranston has a few good scenes as a mentor type. Christina Hendricks has a decent, though small role. Perlman livens up the screen in his scenes. And Albert Brooks is the surprise of the movie as a menacing, though reasonable mobster.

Interesting is the word that should be used for   “Drive.” The film can be looked at closely and it can be simply enjoyed. My suggestion: enjoy it simply at first, then stop and think about what you’ve just seen. There’s enough action and style to keep you entertained, but there’s also enough under the surface to keep you thinking of the film. That’s certainly the effect the film had on me and I can’t wait to watch it again.

A Cannelton resident, Harris is a movie buff and blogger who posts reviews of films at www.canneltoncritic.com.