Welcome back to Redbox Theater, my Two-Fisted Blogees. It's not often a blurb from a recent book or movie grabs me, but I'm gonna cut-and-paste one that did:
A lone-wolf Hollywood stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) moonlights as a freelance getaway wheelman, and he finds his solitary existence taking on new meaning after befriending Irene (Carey Mulligan), the lonely wife of convicted felon Standard (Oscar Isaac), and her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos). When Standard gets released from prison and is strong-armed into committing a bold daytime robbery, the Driver offers his services in an effort to help the repentant ex-con cut his ties to the criminal underworld. Things get complicated, however, when the robbery goes unexpectedly awry, and the Driver just barely manages to escape alive. When the take from the job proves to be stratospherically higher than the Driver was led to believe, it quickly becomes apparent that they were set up. Later, thugs threaten to kill Irene and Benicio, and all evidence points to transplanted New York crime boss Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his hot-headed partner Nino (Ron Perlman) as the masterminds. As the Driver attempts to turn the tables on them, it becomes clear that the chain of command goes much higher than he could have ever anticipated. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi All Movie Guide
So in my wishful-thinking imagination, this sounded like a movie that had it all--juicy plot; likeable hero; high-yet-believable stakes...and some tire-melting, gear-jamming action.
My hopes continued to build during the first few scenes. Before accepting a gig as a getaway driver, our (anti)hero informs his passengers of his terms. (They've got him for 5 minutes only and after that they're on their own. He won't carry a gun or get involved in any shooting...etc.) And then he sticks to his plan. OK, it's only the beginning of the movie and he has another 90 minutes or so to metamorphasis into an idiot, but we're off to a good start.
When the getaway scene gets underway, it's quite suspenseful. The action is understated--no typical Hollywood car chase BS (even though I like watching some of that when it's done well). The driver has wisely chosen a plain-Jane nondescript sedan, but with plenty mo' under the hood, but only unleashes the beast once, really, and then briefly. More realistic than expected.
I also might add that the soundtrack during this scene was unusual and quite effective at boosting the suspense. From a young age I've been an avid observer of how cinematic scores can either enhance or spoil the action on screen. It always interests me when a director chooses to eschew music in favor of just drums. Kurosawa's Throne of Blood used a lone drum to memorable effect. The Longest Day really built up tension with its use of the military snare during the first act, I thought...not to mention the ominous toms beating out Beetoven's Fifth/the morse code "V" for victory at the beginning of the film.
In Drive's getaway scene the director opted for some sort of rhythmic throbbing sound that forces me to re-use some of the adjectives above: tense; ominous; understated...in some primordial way it was signalling me to ready myself for battle. To maintain an even strain right now, but be ready for some explosive action soon.
If that was the intended subliminal message, then the promise was broken by most of the film. It wasn't a bad movie, please understand. It was well-executed in most respects. What hinders it from greatness, I suspect, is that the film makers shot for a fusion of action flick and art film.
For all I know, the art house crowd may love it as much as they love, say, Taxi Driver. For me, though, I felt a bit cheated after reading the synopsis pasted above. Two other cult car flicks come to mind: Vanishing Point (the original) and Two-Lane Blacktop. Both were low-budget counterculture films that happened to have flashes of high-octane action in them (the former less disappointing than the latter). This was even less of a car flick, and the production values were higher than either of the other two, but it fits pretty well with Two-Lane Blacktop in that the style might be a turn-off to those attracted by the subject matter.
I do appreciate the disciplined adherence to realism, if that was the director's priority. And don't get me wrong--I'm sick of all the unexplained fiery explosions and needless, gratuitous destruction of fine machinery in 99% of Tinseltown car chases. I'm not suggesting they follow the cheesy formula at all. I'm just saying, by the way this film was marketed, I was expecting a bit more of a thrill ride.
Please excuse me while I chew on a toothpick for an extended period of moody silence.