Shut up and “Drive”

Nicolas Winding Refn’s Cannes darling “Drive” excels because it’s bold enough to decelerate.

Gosling+as+the+Driver+in+Drive.

Photo courtesy FilmDistrict

Gosling as the Driver in “Drive.”

by Mark Brenden

âÄúDriveâÄù

Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks

Rated: R

Showing: Area theaters

Yes, âÄúDrive,âÄù Nicolas Winding RefnâÄôs new âÄúaction drama,âÄù stars Ryan Gosling. Yes, Gosling is cute and was in “The Notebook.” Yes, the title “Drive” sounds like the succinct cousin to âÄúThe Fast and the Furious.âÄù No, you should not see this move for those reasons.

That said, you should see this movie.

âÄúDriveâÄù is the story of a driver with no name (Gosling), who maneuvers stunt cars for the movies by day and drives thieves to safety by night. We first see the Driver steer a pair of criminals away from a crime scene âÄî using both acute vehicular flair and roadrunner intellect. From here we are led to believe the DriverâÄôs gravitas and swagger will rev him past MurphyâÄôs Law and he’ll perform awesome chase scenes for 100 minutes. But the film harnesses its depth early on, when the Driver meets Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benecio (Kaden Leos), whose father, Standard (Oscar Isaac) is soon to return from jail. When our man catches word that the StandardâÄôs debts could send Irene and Benecio into harmâÄôs way, he decides to help in StandardâÄôs redemption, and MurphyâÄôs Law makes an inside pass to assert its dominance (all hell breaks loose).

The scenario surrounding âÄúDriveâÄù is a testament to GoslingâÄôs modern prominence as an actor. The movie is an adaptation of James SallisâÄôs 2005 novel of the same name, and the studio gave Gosling the choice of who he wanted to direct it. He went with the Danish Refn, whose arthouse violence films âÄúBronsonâÄù and âÄúValhalla RisingâÄù polarized audiences but impressed Gosling.

ItâÄôd be difficult to imagine this film being as good âÄî nay, great âÄî as it is in the hands of a different director. Refn, who won Best Director at Cannes for the movie, colors the filmâÄôs action core with splashes of remarkably long shots and an arty playfulness with lighting. The exact same script (as good as it is) could have been coated in heavy metal thunder and general tactlessness with someone else behind the camera. But itâÄôs RefnâÄôs ability to slow the DriverâÄôs story down to first gear that really makes it a masterpiece.

ItâÄôs hard to say this with a straight face, but this film is something of a breakthrough for Gosling. HereâÄôs a man whoâÄôs broken through more than an acid head on the 3rd of July, but âÄúDriveâÄù will likely accelerate him from respected heartthrob to masculine icon. ItâÄôs fair to say that heâÄôs making a case to join Robert De Niro, Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood in the Sacred Immortal Badasses Club. Over the past decade, heâÄôs taken essentially no backward steps (unless you count making every woman in America fawn over him in âÄúThe NotebookâÄù and slightly going through the motions with Sir Anthony Hopkins in âÄúFractureâÄù). If enough of the right people see âÄúDrive,âÄù leather driving gloves are going to fly off the shelves the way Western ponchos did in 1966.

ItâÄôd be sad to see this work of art become the kind of film that critics love and middle America hates. But with so many long shots, so much graphic gore and so much silence âÄî itâÄôs likely to fall into that trap. Weak-stomached fans of rom-coms and mindless action are likely to walk out of the film they probably never should have walked into. But âÄúDriveâÄù is a movie for intelligent movie-goers, and if thatâÄôs what you are, youâÄôll stay in your seat, and be rightly chained to it.

3.5/4 stars