[EDITOR'S NOTE: Fearless Sarah D. Bunting of Tomatonation.com is making it her mission to watch every single film nominated for an Oscar before the Academy Awards Ceremony on February 26, 2012. She is calling this journey her Oscars Death Race. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here.]
The IMDb's plot summary of Drive is hilariously understated: "A mysterious Hollywood stuntman, mechanic and getaway driver lands himself in trouble when he helps out his neighbour." Well…yeah. If by "mysterious," you mean "communicates primarily in stares and vicious, bloody attacks and is never given a name," and if by "trouble," you mean "a zero-degrees-Kelvin-cold set-up that will beat a path of shattered skulls to his door." But: yeah.
For all that, and all the horrible crunching and squelching that accompanies the ultra-violence (which the film is basically nominated for in Sound Editing), and the Red Shoe Diaries
credits font and the Sonny-Crockett-esque brooding by the dashboard light and various other hat-tips to '80s culture, it's a compelling 100 minutes. If you don't find gazing at Ryan Gosling a worthwhile pursuit for its own sake, your mileage may vary (sorry about that pun), but whenever I started to make a snarky note about B-side Tangerine Dream videos mated with a Chevy commercials, something twisted or capital-M Mythic would happen and yank the movie back onto the right side of lazy collage: Bernie (Albert Brooks) killing a dude in an unnecessarily messy way, then soothing him in a bedside tone as he dies; the lights going out in the elevator and turning a kiss between the driver and Irene (Carey Mulligan) into a dream sequence.
Several sequences stretch out too far without much apparent rationale, and the matching of soundtrack lyrics to onscreen emotional narrative is probably intended as another homage to the '80s, but that's not a film formula in need of honoring. Drive can get a little referential and self-indulgent for what is, in the end, a splattery heist-gone-wrong flick, and it oversold the scorpion/frog thing. But it's a world you don't usually see, in a story that doesn't use the usual toolkit or timing cues, and I liked it for that. It respects an ellipsis.
After the driver, Irene, and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos, exactly cute enough) spend an afternoon driving around, Irene breaks a gaze-tastic silence to say, "That was good." I really liked that line, how it was broad and specific at the same time.
Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here.