The highly acclaimed heist film Drive arrived last weekend, and I dutifully trooped out to see it. After all, it starred Ryan Gosling, and although I had never heard of Nicolas Winding Refn (its Danish director), I was impressed that he had won the Cannes prize for best director.
Other movie-goers must have had the same expectations I had, and the theater I went to at Gallery Place was full. At first, I was intrigued by the intensity of the style — all black and white (though the film is in color) and silence except for the careening sounds of a souped-up car in which the getaway driver is very, very intelligent. I didn’t time the opening, but it seemed like, maybe, 10 minutes.
The film lasts for one hour and 40 minutes, and its brilliant “prologue” could have taken 20 of those, for all I know. But then I may be estimating from my involvement with the film’s main story, which lasted only about 20 minutes in my view. The rest of the time my mind wandered to :
- The fact that Ryan Gosling’s face really has very little to offer by way of masculine beauty — it’s all narrow-eyed intensity. But we know from Crazy, Stupid, Love that his body is beautiful.
- Carey Mulligan really is a good actress — a conclusion extrapolated from the fact that she said almost as little as Gosling did through the film, but still conveyed a sweetness that is hard to resist.
- The supporting actors are terrific. They provide some of the excruciating violence that ends Drive, but also whatever human interest there is, beyond what you can wring out from its mute main actors.
Some may find Albert Brooks surprising as a bad guy. We are used to his comedy, which often contains a small note of menace. But he’s wonderfully released in Drive and ought to be nominated for an Academy Award for it. The same for Bryan Cranston, the sit-com dad, who plays a somewhat lovable, small-time Hollywood agent/crook who is lame in every sense of that word.
As for the film itself? Some of the cognoscenti, like the judges at Cannes, may call it one of the best films of the year for its glitzy car sequences, its understated characterizations, its refusal to give in to conventional expectations — and even for all its gore that builds suddenly after long episodes of resolute silence. It is from Europe, after all.
But if I’m going to get my gore with a European flavor, I’d rather take it in the Irish version. I’m thinking about a movie called The Guard, starring Brendan Gleeson, an Irish actor that Americans will hardly recognize. He is a beefy cop in Galway who responds phlegmatically to the most horrendous of events. Like the opening sequence fast-car mayhem.
There is a big drug smuggle afoot, and the locals have to deal with the intrusion of an American FBI agent played by Don Cheadle. He forms the perfect foil for Gleeson. He’s all taut and put-together, while Gleeson is all flesh and devil.
Like Drive, The Guard opens with a bang, but since the setting is Galway rather than L.A., there is color and sly humor along the way. Perhaps it’s not exactly noir, but its stolid, slightly criminal cop is witty and cares for his mother. If you prefer such humanity to catatonia, spend your money on the small Irish film — and have a good time.