If you didn’t catch up with “Drive” on the theater circuit, don’t miss this exhilarating ride on its home video run.
Nicolas Winding Refn (“Bronson”) directs sure-handedly from a brilliantly stripped-down script by Hossein Amini (“The Four Feathers”) based on the novel by James Sallis about aLos Angeles loner (Ryan Gosling) who works as a garage mechanic and part-time Hollywood stunt driver by day and moonlights as a wheel man for small-time heisters.
This may sound like potentially mindless action movie fare, this all-too-familiar plot, with an overabundance of car chases, explosions and brutal violence, and it does contain all of the above. And Gosling’s character at first seems typical of the genre, like Eastwood’s Man-With-No-Name (we know him only as “The Driver”), a man of few words or outward emotions, who remains cool and ultra-capable when the going gets rough.
But sweet, sad, vulnerable neighbor Iris (an irresistible Carrie Mulligan) and her little boy (Kaden Leos) jump-start deep feelings within The Driver and the film begins to reveal itself as a high-octane, 21st-century “Shane” in a souped-up Chevy, with not only action and suspense but all the heart, soul and heroism of that classic Western.
When Iris’ ex-convict husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), comes under threat for a debt he owes to mobsters — which in turn puts the mother and boy in jeopardy — The Driver offers his services in a pawnshop robbery Standard is forced to commit. When the job goes disastrously wrong, The Driver goes on the offensive to protect Iris from the retaliation of some very ruthless criminals, including ex-B-movie producer Bernie Rose, played with startlingly convincing bad-guy gusto by Albert Brooks in one of the most Oscar-worthy supporting turns of 2011.
Unfortunately, “Drive” itself is a robbery victim, garnering only a sound-editing nomination when it should have been a top contender for best picture. There’s a surprisingly tender love story in the midst of the bloody battle between good and evil, and drama as powerful as the supercharged engines beneath the gleaming hoods of all those muscle cars.
Bonus features include the featurettes “I Drive: The Driver,” “Driver and Irene: The Relationship,” “Under the Hood: Story” and “Cut to the Chase: Stunts.”
— Gene Triplett