I figured Moneyball would hold up as my favorite movie of the year, at least favorite movie of autumn. But Ryan Gosling and Drive pulled up and then left Brad Pitt in their dust. Granted, these are not comparable movies in any facet, but I friggin’ loved Moneyball in a way I rarely enjoy movies. And now I’m saying the same thing – and more – about Drive.
It’s like gummy bears. Here are these wonderful, fun snacks that everyone in the first world enjoys. And when Amazin’ Fruit hits the shelves, you think, this is the absolute apex of gummy candies. Tropical flavors, a new twist on an old favorite, and a catchy commercial jingle:
And then the next week, you go to your best friend’s house to play Toe Jam & Earl on SEGA Genesis, and you’re going crazy on a box of Soda-Licious, another new (and better) gummy crack (Fast forward to 1:43):
Cola… root beer… CHERRY COLA?!?
And that’s how I feel about Drive. The cherry-cola fruit snack that debuts 10 minutes after I’ve been blown away by tropical gummy bears.
The opening sequence, a tense game of hide-and-seek with the police, with the audio backdrop of a police scanner and an LA Clippers radio broadcast set the tone that this is a movie that drops your typical action/chase/crime movie into a mundane, everyday-life background, and it’s pulled off brilliantly.
Then, in classic noir fashion, we never even catch Ryan Gosling’s character’s name, as he’s referred to as “kid” or “the driver.” (He is credited as the latter.) Equally noir are the inclusion of a hard luck mechanic – Driver’s boss – and the bloodsucking mobsters (played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman) they accidentally get mixed up with. The results are expected, but the events leading up to the climactic finale between Gosling and his tormentor, Bernie Rose (Brooks), are often littered with shocking, gruesome, WTF moments. Drive is not for the faint of heart, partly because even the good guy acts like a bad guy, what with the smashing of fingers with hammers, slapping girls, and what I predict be a famous movie scene (or dance) twenty years from now, the “elevator stomp.”
But it’s clearly all an intentional decision to look at the nature of individuals.
Early on, Driver watches cartoons with his neighbor Irene’s son Benecio, and asks the boy if the shark on-screen is good or bad. The boy responds that the shark is a villain, because all sharks are bad.
Driver’s jacket has a scorpion prominently emblazoned on the back. At one point, he references an old fable of the scorpion and the frog, in which an unwitting frog transports a scorpion across the river, only to be thanked with a paralyzing prick of the arachnid’s stinger. They both drown. Another telling sign of the theme, but as dust settles after the final confrontation, we see what kind of man Driver ultimately is, and that one’s character cannot be as black-and-white as cartoon TV sharks.
The thematically simple-yet-deftly-executed plot is coupled by an aesthetically excellent use of sight and sound. I definitely get the feeling the film was inspired by Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the popular video game set in 1986. Beyond old school cars (you know, the kinds made of metal in Detroit, not plastic in Mexico), there was Gosling’s white Member’s Only jacket, a synth-pumping soundtrack spearheaded by highly addictive tunes like Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx’s “Nightcall” and “A Real Hero” by College (featuring Electric Youth), and even the credits, which flashed across the screen in a bright, hot pink script font that belonged in Cocktail, a juxtaposition of the serious tone set at the film’s onset that was both weird and fascinating. (I can’t think of a better time to use the word “fascinating.” That’s what it was. Fascinating.)
TANGENT: As of this writing, I’ve listened to the soundtrack times times all the way through, and “A Real Hero” 23 times. The instrumental section (15 of the 19 tracks) also makes escalator rides at Barnes & Noble much more dramatic.
Great story. Muted, realistic characters and events, including a music-less chase scene that would make Steve McQueen’s Bullitt proud. Purposeful violent violence. Drive has unseated Moneyball as my favorite movie this year. I will probably see it at least one more time in the theatre. This is how Amazin’ Fruit felt when I found Soda-Licious.