by Rick Grant
In this arty approach to a heist movie, Ryan Gosling plays Driver, a movie stunt driver and freelance getaway driver for big time heists. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn uses silent space effectively to establish Driver’s deeply seeded darkness smoldering under his facade of quiet observation.
The guy seems like he wouldn’t hurt a fly, but threaten him or his girlfriend, and he snaps into a raging agent of death. When he’s not doing car stunts for the movies, he works at a auto-garage with his surrogate father, Shannon, (Bryan Cranston) who helps Driver get gigs with the movies and night jobs as a getaway driver.
Albert Brooks plays the leader of a heist gang, Bernie Rose with Ron Pearlman as Nino, who uses his pizza joint as their headquarters. These are violent men who will kill anyone who is a threat to their illicit business. Driver seems to be an innocent employee who is into making a few extra bucks with his exceptional driving talent and calm demeanor.
Meanwhile, Driver notices a pretty young woman, Irene (Carey Mulligan) as his neighbor. She has a small child to whom he takes a liking. One thing leads to another, and when she has car trouble, he takes her home and recommends that she brings her car into Shannon’s garage. She invites him in and he finds out her hubby is in jail. You could run a subdivision on the sexual energy these two misfits are generating.
Long pregnant pauses are the norm between Irene and Driver. Yes, you can feel the mind meld between them. Perhaps Refn uses this technique a bit too much, but it establishes the close bond between the two lovers with explosive chemistry.
Just when their relationship is heading toward steamy sex, Irene tells Driver her husband will be released early for good behavior. He’s coming home the next day. Crap, they haven’t even slept together yet. But, stoic Driver is philosophic about her reunion with her spouse.
After hubby’s welcome home party, the next day, Driver comes home from the garage and finds hubby beaten to a pulp on the floor next to his apartment. He promised some guy in prison a big score for protection in the joint. Now he must repay the loan by pulling a pawn shop robbery.
Unbeknownst to Irene’s husband, the heist is a setup for Nino’s gangster associate to retrieve one million dollars being held in the pawn shops safe. Joining the indebted robber is Blanche, (Christina Hendricks) another associate of Nino’s. Her job is to hold the money.
Driver foolishly agrees to drive for the heist, which goes horribly wrong. This sets off a war between Driver and Bernie Rose’s gang. They want the money and he has it. Of course, they will kill him when they get their hands on the dough.
Funny, since the movie is titled “Driver,” and the protagonist is named Driver, there are not as many driving scenes as one might imagine. There are plenty of stare-down pregnant pauses. But watch out, when Driver snaps, all hell breaks loose.
Refn’s use of space and pauses creates tension and anticipation, which seems to be an homage to David Lynch’s convoluted style. This is Refn’s eighth film but first production for David Lancaster, Gary Michael Walters, and William Lischak as executive producers of Marc Platt/Motel Movies production company.
This is an intriguing film for action junkies who demand quality filmmaking.
Driver Movie Review
by Rick Grant