In Drive, Baby Goose barely says ten words, but manages to embody cinema’s cuddliest psychopath. He’s just this delicious, Asperger’s sundae covered in butterscotch, like a blue-eyed Terminator who kills you with sweetness, and also a hammer.
The best way I can describe Drive is that it’s True Romance, if Tarantino had been snorting ‘ludes instead of coke, with a dash of The Professional and a Cronenbergian flair for the graphic.
Gosling plays a guy with no name who only cares about three things: cars, his neighbors (Carey Mulligan and her son), and his shiny scorpion jacket (to be fair, it is a really sweet jacket). Like True Romance, it’s essentially a love story set in the LA underbelly, where the entertainment industry is just another gangster racket (Ray Chandler allusion implied), and ends in a similar tangle of drugs, gangsters, and money. Oh, and crushed skulls. SOOO many crushed skulls.
The first thing that strikes you about Drive is how leisurely it is. Like Baby Goose in a relationship, it never rushes things. Even when not compared to the rest of this summer’s movies, the Transformers of the world, overstuffed with unnecessary characters, pointless quirks, excessive dialog, and confusing subplots, Drive is still jarringly minimalist. The long shots and deliberate staging are languid to the point that it feels like Nicholas Winding Refn is f*cking with you, because he probably is. Baby Goose drives around in his car with mellow synth music playing (which, along with the pink script of the titles, give it a very Grand Theft Auto vibe), the light hitting his face at just the right angle, smiling his inscrutable Baby Goose smile. He’s like a blonde Mona Lisa who just wants to share a sundae. There are other times when Baby Goose and Carey Mulligan just stare at each other for so long that you want to scream “SAY SOMETHING, YOU DAMNED MONGOLOIDS!” But like a cinematic Sigur Rós song, you enjoy the vibe at first, then it starts to drag, and soon you’re so dying for ANY kind of hook or melody that when it finally comes, you clamp on with both hands and almost giggle with glee. If ever an action movie could be called “atmospheric,” it’s this one.
Sure, there are a few other characters — Carey Mulligan looking slightly less like a wounded dove than she did in Wall Street 2, Bryan Cranston being lovable and Bryan Cranstony, Albert Brooks with no eyebrows for some reason, Ron Perlman as a gangster named Gino with an enormous head and protruding gorilla mouth like Homer Simpson — but Drive is the Ryan Gosling show. He manages to exude lovability and menace simultaneously, somewhere along the spectrum of Deniro in Taxi Driver, Jean Reno in The Professional, and Viggo Mortensen in History of Violence. Cuddly Travis Bickle, I call him. Hey, girl. I stomped a guy to death, but only because you’re pretty.
The slow camera moves (note: this is different than slow motion) and relaxed editing are patient to the point that it almost feels reactionary. Shaky-cam this ain’t. It’s just a detached look at characters in unwinnable situations of their own creation. And as such, probably not as uplifting as one of Baby Goose’s ukulele ballads. Between that and the almost clinical fascination with gore, Drive is, as they say, “not for everyone” (even though it’s TOTALLY for me).
As I was leaving the theater, I overheard some younger girls behind me loudly complaining about how much they hated it (dear everyone: if your friend is standing right next to you, I shouldn’t be able to hear your voice three blocks away — is it just me, or did that Austin Powers disease where you’re unable to control the volume of your own voice become an epidemic a few years back?).
“You give me NO REASON TO LIKE YOU,” Cacklesquawk talk-shouted to her friend, referring to Ryan Gosling. “If I wanted to see a guy stand around and not talk, I’d…” and here she trailed off, I assume because anything that involved not talking was outside her comfort zone. Point being, if you trick some dumb rom-com lover into seeing this with you thinking it’s going to be some new version of The Notebook with car chases, it’s going to be awkward when he/she’s staring at you in horror as you giggle at Baby Goose stomping some guy to death. But it will be fun for the rest of us.
Drive is the rare action movie that actually pulls off “arty” without feeling like puffed-up, posturing Boondock Saints buffonery. …And I like that.