By on November 29, 2011

Somewhere around Season Five of The Sopranos, mob boss Tony Soprano asks his psychiatrist, “Whatever happened to the strong, silent type?” Here’s one answer to that question: Ryan Gosling’s performance in Drive. Awkwardly taciturn in many scenes and utterly wordless in others, Gosling’s nameless Driver has a ruthless economy of both word and action. As an action movie, Drive is patiently paced; as a love story and character study, it is almost too sparse to parse. Since this is TTAC, however, we’ll mostly talk about the cars and the driving…

This is what we know about the Driver: he is a skilled mechanic, he works as part-time Hollywood stunt wheelman, he lives alone, he prefers not to talk. He also works as a getaway driver with a very strict set of rules: he will be on-site for five minutes, he doesn’t touch a gun or assist with the crime, and he’d rather not hear any details. The tense opening scene, which can be seen in most of the online trailers, pits the Driver against the cops, but his tools are stealth and intelligence, not high speed or daring driving.

Once that character establishment is complete, we see that the Driver may have a chance to do some stock car racing — but in order to do so, he will have to get closer to two local mobsters, played with absolute, scene-chewing relish by Ron Perlman (of course) and Albert Brooks. I’m a long-time Brooks fan. It’s always been interesting to watch his “normal” movies and see how hard he works to minimize his physical size and presence on-camera. In this movie, the man is free to become the Jewish gangster we always wanted him to be, and the results of that transformation would make the movie worth watching even if nothing else of note happened.

There has to be a love interest, of course, but it’s not the pixie-ish girl next door. Rather, it is her son. We understand somehow that the Driver can never be a father himself. Too much danger, too much drama, and too much involvement with unreliable third parties. After all, what is parenthood, except a continuing criminal enterprise with partners who may or may not go crazy at any moment? When he takes up with the neighbor, he may touch her hand or look at her longingly, but the true love scene in the movie is a part where the Driver takes the girl and her son through some of the same kinds of California drainage ditches (or whatever they are) we see in “Terminator 2”. It’s a scene which makes you think that he is about to find a family. Although this is an “R” rated film, there is barely a suggestion of sex. What the Driver wants is simple: to belong. This, like Fast Five, eschews bedroom scenes in order to focus on what Robert Bly called “the shortage of father in America.” A father without a son meets a son without a father, and of this stuff are happy endings made.

Naturally, it doesn’t work that way. The girlfriend’s husband is released from prison, and before long it’s time to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of high-speed driving, hammers to the forehead, and busty redheads being shot in the face. Alright. Let’s talk cars.

This is very much a Big Three movie. The car in the opening scenes is a “300 horsepower” current-generation Impala, identified (probably wrongly) as “the best-selling car in California.” It doesn’t appear to be the 5.3L SS. Perhaps it’s the new 2012 DI V-6. The noise it makes once on the move, however, is very V-8ish.

There’s an ARCA-style stock car, which finishes the Driver’s short-oval session with “tread still on the tires.” I know.

Next we have the man’s ride itself, a 1973 Chevelle. This site offers a few neat facts about the car. For me, it was enough to see the maligned “Colonnade” cars get some well-deserved love. Rest assured that if your humble author ever follows Brock Yates into the screenwriting business, I will get a ’77 Cutlass Supreme in the movie somehow. Honestly, it was past time for one of these to get a starring role somewhere, particularly after the competing Gran Torino appeared in the movie of the same name. Take a Colonnade Coupe and a current Continental GT to an alien planet where nobody’s ever seen a rap video and see which one gets more love for styling and street presence.

Finally, there is the main action sequence of the movie, which features a five-liter 2011 Mustang automatic and a tuned-up previous-gen 300C. The big stunt involves a handbrake spin, full-throttle driving in reverse, and a luridly-executed J-turn. A few of my friends asked me to evaluate the “realism” of the sequence. Plainly speaking, there isn’t any. In a real-life, full-tilt, American-V8 chase, assuming any such things exist outside my own imagination, the Driver’s actions wouldn’t work. It’s a pair of very low-speed moves executed and filmed to appear as they are happening at a hundred miles per hour. I’m not buying it, and they shouldn’t be selling it. Having the plot hinge on such a lousy maneuver is unfortunate.

Oh well. To some degree, that car chase serves as the dividing line between the first half of the movie, which is largely plausible, and the increasingly unrealistic second half. A true Hollywood ending would betray the spirit of Drive, but what we do get somehow fails to satisfy on any level. It doesn’t really matter. Two thumbs up. Go see it, although you may have to look at your local second-run theatre to see it; Drive didn’t last thirty days at most of the major chains. This isn’t a movie which relies on the magic of the big screen to work. Should you have to wait for Netflix, it still worth waiting for, if only to see one of the very few strong, silent heroes in recent memory.

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26 Comments on “TTAC At The Movies: “Drive”...”


  • avatar
    dvp cars

    …….you’re the last person I thought of as a closet “Collonade” freak. Relax, you’re not alone, others are coming out every day. Clandestine clubs are said to exist……..not that I’d know , of course, I haven’t got the backbone to come out just yet.

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      I’ll stand and say ‘Aye’ for the 73-77 club.

      • 0 avatar
        dvp cars

        …….is there a definitive list of “Collonades”? I know that 73-77 GM midsize coupes fit the bill, but what about 4 doors, wagons, etc? And are Monte Carlos and GP’s considered members, as their styling is noticeably different. I don’t remember the term being popular “back in the day”, so who coined the label?

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      Anything based on the 73-77 GM A-body platform.

      This includes;
      El Camino
      Monte Carlo
      Grand Prix
      Cutlass (2 and 4 door and Wagon)
      Malibu/Malibu Classic (2 and 4 doors and Wagons)
      Laguna (sedan and wagon as well in ’73)
      Chevelle SS (both 2 door and the Wagon in 73)
      Century/Regal
      LeMans/Grand LeMans
      Grand Am
      Stutz Blackhawks in the ’70s were also based on the A-body.

      The basic chassis that debuted in 1973 would also be found under the 1996 B-body Caprice/Impala SS/Roadmaster/Custom Cruiser. It’s not a like for like as the A-body is shorter than the B-body behind the rear axle, and the B-body frame isn’t as stout, but all the suspension parts swap.

      The Chevelle nameplate didn’t die in 72 like the purists tell you, it died after 1977 with the downsizing of the A-body to the Malibu name for 1978 model year.
      The Stutz was based on it as well.

  • avatar
    tkewley

    Title aside, this isn’t really a car movie. It takes a while to get going, and as noted, the last half, while exciting, is both implausible and fairly predictable – ie. (SPOILER ALERT) this is one of those movies where nearly all of the main characters are dead by the end. Still, Albert Brooks’ performance is unexpected, chilling, and surprisingly believable. Worth a watch – I give it 2.5 stars out of four.

    • 0 avatar
      jglucker

      Agreed.

      I attended a screening, and the entire audience gasped then burst out laughing at the very unexpected scenes in the 2nd half (Elevator scene specifically).

      The intro was cool, the music vibed well but the pacing was SO.SLOW. in the beginning. This is two different movies mashed together…

      I predict it will be a cult hit.

  • avatar

    I too was dismayed a bit by the backwards driving sequence. Not a big deal, but a bit like the fake tire smoke in Ronin.

  • avatar

    I liked the movie, but I really liked the soundtrack. I think my favorite aspect of the movie was that it wasn’t an all out car chase, things blow up movie. There were lots of quiet reflective moments as well.

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    Great math problem for the kids:
    1. Car A has XX.XX final drive ratio in 3rd gear
    2. Car B has XX.XX final drive ratio in reverse

    How fast does Car B’s engine needs to spin to maintain speed in reverse of Car A doing 100 mph in 3rd gear.

    • 0 avatar
      protomech

      A-rpm / A-XX.XX = B-rpm / B-XX.XX

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      Car A has a final drive in 3rd of 2.56
      Car B has a final drive * reverse of 4.91.

      Assuming Car A turns 3500 rpm at 100mph, Car B needs to turn about 7500 rpm. (and an alignment that’s not scary at anything over 20mph in reverse)

      (Assuming a TH-350 and a standard Gen 1 small block Chevrolet)

  • avatar
    magicbus1966

    I read the director failed his driving test several times, and had to be shuttled back to the airport by Gosling in one of their earlier meetings. If the director doesn’t even have a passing interest in cars, it isn’t going to be a car guy movie.

    Still, loved it.

  • avatar
    Victell

    Drive was awesome. Reminded me of the darker, early Miami Vice episodes. Brutal and to the point too.

    One of the best things I liked about it was that no one made stupid ‘movie decisions’ just to keep the plot going. The characters stayed true to the way they were written.

    Also there was a bit of frustration (planned maybe) that there were lots of bad-ass cars in the garage, but they never moved. Always parked.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    I enjoyed it, but I’m so glad I didn’t take the girls to see it. They are FastFuriousFiveOMFG lovers and they really don’t appreciate good acting, or the things that make great movies great. They would have been bored to tears with its lack of hot shirtless guys and explosions.

  • avatar
    rochskier

    I thoroughly enjoyed “Drive” and felt as though it was more tightly written than the novella of the same name that inspired it. I thought Gosling’s performance was a tour-de-force, and everyone around him ranged from excellent to very good.

    Like the film, there was not a great deal of car chase action in the novella. On the other hand, the author did pencil in a bit more background for Driver and other characters.

    I think the main reason there was not a lot of driving footage in the film was that the budget was about $13 million. The vehicles, drivers, and equipment required for chase scenes can quickly eat into a number that low.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    This came out right about the time I sold my black Mustang. I just didn’t have the heart to go see this after that. I’ve heard from several “movie people” it was quite good, though.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    I was expecting something along the lines of Transporter, but all interesting scenes were shown in previews. I was disappointed with the film. And could not believe that 5.0 could not outrun porkier 300C. I want my two hours of life back!

    • 0 avatar
      rochskier

      Part of me really wants to believe that the horsepower imbalance in “Drive” was the director’s subtle, inverted nod to “Bullitt”, where the Ford product was down on power versus the Mopar.

  • avatar
    DJTragicMike

    I loved the movie… The pacing and dry storytelling aren’t for everyone but the acting was on point.

    As for the “driving”, beyond the opening scene it was a little silly but not too distracting. EXCEPT – he was doing hot laps in a race car, supposedly testing the car and showing off for a potential investor, WITHOUT A HELMET. I can forgive goofy stunts and unrealistic road driving but come on, that was just too much.

  • avatar
    V-Strom rider

    I loved the cinematography, rather in the vein of Collateral, and the pared-back script. As already mentioned, the opening “getaway” was a superb demonstration of how less can be more. The slow pacing ahead of the “flip the switch” violent second half worked for me. Agree the race drive practice sequence was ridiculous, also the nose-to-nose sequence. OTOH, the canyon drive leading up to that was a great homage to the best car chase movie ever made – Bullit. The Mustang was similar enough to represent Bullit’s classic fastback, while the 300C is arguably a modern representation of the bad guys’ Charger i.e. powerful, ostentatious and from the same stable.

    Gosling is great, as is Carey Mulligan. She’s probably not well known in the US, but was excellent in two great British (Great British?) films – “An Education” and, especially, “Never Let Me Go”.

    Two thumbs up.

  • avatar
    JJ

    …he is a skilled mechanic…he doesn’t touch a gun or assist with the crime, and he’d rather not hear any details.

    Wait…So he is a skilled hitman, but he doesn’t want to touch a gun or assist with the crime? Completely unrealistic movie.

  • avatar
    Zombo

    Agree with the opinion that this wasn’t much of a car movie due to the lack of car chase scenes . Although I felt the clever game of cat and mouse the driver played with the cops near the beginning of the movie was it’s very best part . More of a character study than a car movie it was hard to have any empathy for the driver after the way over the top elevator scene . Didn’t care much for Ron Perlman’s one dimensional mean gangster performance , but Albert Brooks sharp object wielding – “now see what you made me do” reluctant killer portrayal was spot on . IMO the movie was just okay , I enjoyed the first half and the totally unbelievable second half had me checking my watch .

  • avatar
    Mr. Spacely

    Re: Impala

    Pretty sure that Bryan Cranston says he “dropped 300 ponies into a stock Impala” or some such, as a way to cover for the fact that it’s not an SS, but drive and sounds like one.

    Also, this movie performs the rare feat of making a late-model Impala seem really kick-ass. For that alone, it should win awards.

  • avatar
    Jimmy7

    Mechanic as in ‘Snap-On’, not as in Bronson. You’re kidding, right?

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