January 10, 2012

MOVIES: Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)

There have been studies showing that people will interpret a blank facial expression very differently depending on the context in which it's shown. Greta Garbo was famously asked to make her face as expressionless as possible for the final shot of Queen Christina. In Drive, Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn set out to find out if blank and expressionless can sustain an entire movie. The answer, sadly, is no.

Gosling -- his character is never named, and identified in the credits only as "Driver" -- plays a movie stunt driver who occasionally hires himself out as getaway driver for bank robbers and small-time crooks. He also works at a garage owned by an old friend (Bryan Cranston) who has connections to local mob bosses Bernie and Izzy (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman).

The movie takes a sudden turn when a getaway gig goes very wrong, and suddenly it's Killapalooza 2011, with shootings, stabbings, slashings, and stompings. The violence is intense and makes a strong visceral impact, though I suspect we don't actually see as much gore as we think we're seeing at the moment.

Gosling's performance -- if you can call it that -- consists of staring blankly ahead, saying as little as possible, and occasionally exploding in a frenzied burst of violence. Driver isn't a character; he's an impassive slab of stoicism. The only interesting acting in the movie comes from likely Oscar nominee Albert Brooks, playing very much against type as a gentlemanly thuggish gangster; it's a lovely, dry performance, and the movie would have benefited greatly from more of the understatement and wit Brooks brings to it.

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