More about attitude and mood and less about words, “Drive” is a slick and highly entertaining bit of film noir.
With a European look by director Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling heading a strong cast, this is the type of film that takes a deliberate pace and builds to a fantastically intense dramatic crescendo. It’s among the best films of 2011.
Gosling plays a character simply known as Driver - a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a hired driver for petty criminals.
Driver moves into a new apartment, where he strikes up a friendship with Irene (Carey Mulligan), a mother of a young child whose husband (Oscar Isaac) is about to get out of jail.
The husband returns home and reveals to Driver that he needs a driver for a job he has to do to pay off former associates. Driver agrees, but the heist goes awry and puts everyone in jeopardy.
Gosling continues his string of strong work. It’s a performance with little dialogue, but Gosling commands your attention - evoking memories of James Dean or early Marlon Brando in the process.
Mulligan is fine as the female in the story, but there is some meaty supporting work by a trio of men. Bryan Cranston is really good as Driver’s broken-down and morally bankrupt mentor, while Ron Perlman has a menacing turn as a low-level gangster.
But Pearlman isn’t the biggest heavy in the film. That distinction belongs to Albert Brooks as another gangster entangled in Driver’s dilemma. This is an Oscar-worthy performance that is a change of pace from Brooks’ previous work in lighter fare, such as “Broadcast News” and “Mother.”
People expecting an action film such as “The Transporter” (which the ads suggest) will likely be disappointed. This is a film that starts with a really cool opening sequence, then settles in with a slow build that turns ultraviolent in the second half - with a style that reminded me of David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” and “Wild at Heart.”
If I have any complaints with “Drive,” it’s that the final scene isn’t quite as satisfying as it should have been. But that’s a minor glitch in a film that is full throttle from the opening moments. Moviegoers looking for a smart and stylish diversion will not be disappointed.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Bridesmaids” (B), the smash comedy that has a little something for everyone.
Women will surely connect with the nearly all-female cast, full of vibrant and empowered characters who don’t play to stereotypes.
It might have a chick-flick center, but this is a guy’s film as well - featuring some raunchy moments and gross-out gags that rival anything from a Judd Apatow film (It should be noted Apatow served as a producer here).
“Saturday Night Live” alum Kristen Wiig stars and also co-wrote the screenplay. She plays Annie, a 30-year-old slacker who is asked by her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), to be her maid of honor.
Annie accepts but quickly realizes the duty might be more than she bargained for. Her biggest problem is fellow bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne), who seems to be determined to take the best friend mantle from Annie.
As the two compete to one-up each other for Lillian’s friendship, Annie takes the most damage - watching her already messy life unravel even more.
Wiig has shown an ability to get laughs on “SNL,” even though she has kind of worn out her welcome on that show. But Wiig is in her element here, playing a character who highlights her comedic strengths.
Wiig also deserves credit for playing a character who is pretty much a sad sack. There’s nothing glamorous about Annie and as her downward spiral increases, Wiig is willing to be the butt of the joke - and that results in some of the film’s funniest moments.
There is plenty of great supporting work as well - including Melissa McCarthy (who just won an Emmy for her role in the TV series “Mike and Molly”). She plays Megan, sister of the groom and one of the bridesmaids, and attacks the role with a take-no-prisoners, get-the-laugh-any-way-possible gusto.
Megan’s character could have easily been a throwaway role that becomes the obvious butt of jokes, but McCarthy gives her a quirky spark that really allows her to shine. It’s one of the funniest performances of the year.
The film is probably about 20 minutes too long, and not every gag plays as well as it should have.
Still, I found myself laughing a lot during “Bridesmaids.” It might not quite be the female version of “The Hangover” as others have suggested, but it is pretty close.
“Bridesmaids” is rated R for some strong sexuality, and language throughout and is now available on DVD.