Posted by Eli Cohen
"Why don't you shut your mouth, or I'll kick your teeth down your throat and I'll shut it in for you."
OK, it may not win an award for best tough-guy line any time soon. It lacks the provocative sass of Mr. Blonde's classic line: "Are you going to bark all day, little doggie, or are you going to bite?" from Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," or the unruffled coolness of Michael Corleone making his enemy an offer he cannot refuse. But still, coming from "The Notebook" heartthrob Ryan Gosling, the message manages to come across crystal clear: do not mess with this pretty-boy.
"Drive" centers on an (almost comically) brooding, nameless stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for various smalltime crooks. With his monosyllabic dialogue, scorpion-embossed driving jacket and perpetual toothpick hanging from the side of his mouth, the man we see kicking an evil henchman's face in until there is nothing left but pulp is a major departure from anything audiences think they know about Gosling.
In the supporting roles are: a hyper-emotional waitress named Irene (Carey Mulligan, who broke out in 2009s "An Education"), a boisterous, flashy Jewish mobster played by Ron Perlman ("Sons of Anarchy," "Hellboy") and a psychotic, eyebrow-less Albert Brooks. "Drive" takes its audience through a burglary/double-cross/payback gone awry. Brooks, known for his ‘70s and ‘80s comedies (and for the voice of Marlin in "Finding Nemo"), shows a hugely different side of his acting ability as Perlman's partner in crime, but manages to bring some levity to an otherwise dark and gruesome film ("My partner is a belligerent asshole, but he's a belligerent asshole with his back up against the wall, and, now, so am I).
Bryan Cranston, better known as Walter White from AMC's "Breaking Bad" (or as the Dad from "Malcolm in the Middle), also makes an appearance and Cranston fans will be astonished to see that this is one character who does not find himself onscreen in the patented Cranston tighty-whities.
The feel of this film is one of wild extremes. Director Nicolas Winding Refn, who directed the bio-pick "Bronson," which looked at the most violent inmate in Britain's history (played by Tom Hardy), is not known for his restraint. Consequently, the violence in "Drive" is gratuitous, Gosling's quietness is almost disconcerting and the gangsters are…well, pretty much how you would expect gangsters led by the shark tooth-grinned Perlman to be.
It's true that flashes of the Gosling teenage girls know and swoon over still come through from time to time, like the shy smile that plays around the corners of his mouth, like everything is a big joke and he's the only one privileged enough to be in on it. But this sense is immediately countered by his crippling awkwardness and almost annoyingly precious interactions with Irene (the most charming he gets is when he awkwardly offers Irene's son, Benicio, a toothpick).
While this movie began as a "Fast and the Furious" rip-off for Hugh Jackman, it is clear that Gosling brings a dark edginess that Jackman would have failed to deliver (although people probably said the same of Gosling when he signed on). This movie offers no tearful reunions, only the bare Hollywood minimum happily-ever-after and scarcely the slightest hint of redemption. "Drive" is pure testosterone—gut-wrenching, ball-punching action that somehow manages to hold on to a vague sense of control amidst the chaos. This probably will not be the best movie you watch this year overall, but it will almost certainly be the best action movie. And be thankful that Gosling isn't coming after you with a hammer, a bullet and a pair of weird leather gloves.