For the last 6 months or so, the question of what my best movie of the year (so far) has been consistently answered with Source Code, although both Moneyball and Tabloid made brave runs at the title. But, as must always happen when Oscar season happens, the list is getting shuffled and already Source Code has been pushed into second place behind Drive.
The plot has already been described by people who get paid for this as the arthouse version of The Transporter. This is really only true in the basic outline, in that they're both about emotionless getaway drivers who transform into mob fighting supermen, and more than that, The Transporter is fine, for what it is, though it must be said, there is no comparison in quality.
Drive is centered around a nameless, emotionless getaway driver/mechanic named....I dunno, it's never said, he's called simply Driver in the credits. He's an interesting character, as he's almost completely expressionless, not in a stupid bad-acting way, in an intentional way. He rarely speaks, and when he does it's in a quiet, flat voice, regardless of what's being said. The presentation leaves it unclear whether he's incapable or unwilling to express himself and as a result, the rare moments of real emotions peeking through are all that more intense. It's a great performance and Ryan Gosling does a great job.
Of course, playing the subtle quiet role, Driver would threaten to be swallowed in his own story in a movie with more characters. But Drive seems to be aware of this problem and works around it: There are less than 10 characters with names and speaking roles and at least 3 of them are based in quiet subtle acting as well. Of them, Carey Mulligan is great as the nominal love interest, Ron Pearlman does a great villain, etc. But the shocking turn is Albert Brooks as the main villain. Brooks is known primarily for comedy roles, but here he slips into an intense villainous performance like an old pro, managing to find the humanity at the heart of his intensely cruel character. It's the performance of his career in more ways than one.
Those of you showing up for the action scenes are going to leave disappointed and maybe more than a little shaken. The action sequences are scarce, and when they happen they are brief and brutal and shot in such a way to make them horrifying rather than exhilarating. If this were at all at odds with the way the action is treated it might be a flaw, but by making this part of the theme and point it adds a great deal of weight and depth to film as a whole. In many ways it's a cousin to No Country For Old Men or A History of Violence in that respect. All of this turns on a well written script, fantastic direction and a well chosen, if occasionally eclectic, soundtrack.
It's not without it's minor flaws. The lengths they go to to keep characters from ever saying the main characters real name (if any) get kind of silly at times, one scene seems to have been a tiny bit overdirected and while it's not a flaw, I imagine a lot of people aren't going to like the ending. Christ look at me, I'm frantically nitpicking to try and find something to complain about, cuz otherwise my review will feel incomplete. And if that isn't a compliment, I don't know what is.
Drive is still open wide and it might not be for much longer, so if you haven't seen it, you should really see it as soon as possible. It's currently the best thing I've seen all year and there's really nothing at all even vaguely worth watching looking opening wide this weekend. So if you want to see something this weekend, this is the movie for you. Unless you have kids. Don't bring your kids.
Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders, which is a better nickname No Driving for Old Men or No Country for Old Drivers?