In October, a Michigan woman filed a lawsuit against FilmDistrict for misleading her about the film “Drive.” She claimed the movie’s trailer promised a more action-packed film and “promoted the film ‘Drive’ as very similar to the ‘Fast and Furious,’ or similar, series of movies.”
But the suit succeeded in only one respect: It perfectly described why we love “Drive” and why it’s #2 on MTV’s Best Movies of 2011 list.
Everything about “Drive” subverts expectations. The main character, played by Ryan Gosling, doesn’t have a name besides “Driver” and rarely speaks. We root for him despite knowing nothing about him or what’s going on behind his stares. All the audience has to go off is his affection for his down-the-hall neighbor Irene, played by Carey Mulligan, and his sudden, violent outbursts, which surprise with horror levels of gore.
This is all the more shocking when you consider that for the first 30 minutes of the movie, the story plays out in a slow and quiet way, more like a romantic comedy than a crime thriller. Driver’s relationship with Irene puts the audience so off its guard that when the violence finally erupts, it’s instantly unforgettable.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn sets up the film’s opening chase sequence in a way that looks and feels like a “Fast and Furious” movie, but as soon as it starts, it stops — literally. Driver parks the getaway car to remain out of sight. It’s a subtle move that sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
And speaking of tone, what other film captured as much attention for its use of music and atmosphere? The synth-laced soundtrack by Cliff Martinez and a collection of electro-pop songs had everyone talking. Out of context, the choice for the music doesn’t make sense, but the second “Nightcall” drops in over the neon-pink title, all the pieces come together.
When describing the movie to others, most people struggle until they stumble upon the word “cool.” “Drive” is cool in a way that most action movies with their overly muscular heroes and explosions could only dream of being. Gosling and Refn captured an exact balance of warmth and coldness, emotion and indifference that makes the film’s look, sound, story and characters feel like instant classics.
All of these elements would make for a great film, but that would mean ignoring a stellar supporting cast. Albert Brooks oozed menace and dark humor as the villainous pizza parlor owner/low-level mob boss Bernie Rose, and Bryan Cranston continued his streak as the most likable actor working today as Driver’s mentor Shannon.
For all its surprises and unexpected turns, “Drive” is our second favorite movie of the year. It took tired movie clichés and flipped them on their heads to make one of the most original and hard-to-forget moviegoing experiences in recent memory.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Drive.”
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