The 15th Best Movie I Saw This Year: Drive

I believe that I’m either supposed to have hated Drive, or thought it was the best movie of the year. It turns out I did neither.

It’s a flawed movie I liked very much, and would recommend to anyone who thinks that long, slow scenes of Ryan Gosling driving around while 80’s pop songs play is their idea of a good time. So, all of the internet, then.

Two things that are true about this movie:
1. Ryan Gosling is very good in this movie.
2. Ryan Gosling is possibly miscast in this movie.

As the unnamed main character, Gosling is supposed to be strong (sure), conflicted (definitely), and silent (not a normal fit, but it works fine). You can tell he feels things, but his personality is buried deep down, out of reach to those he comes in contact with. That is, until he comes in contact with Carey Mulligan and her son. Mulligan is playing (shockingly!) a sweet, innocent woman with a predilection for helping bruised, complicated men. To protect her, Gosling becomes violent (better than you’d expect), ruthless (less good), and cruel (unconvincing), fighting his way through a series of thugs until he finally faces the sadistic boss (Albert Brooks) who caused all of this. Brooks, by the way, has no problem selling to me that he’s sadistic.

But then, is that the point? Are we supposed to believe that Gosling is still the same gentle heart he always plays, his wry grin hidden by layers of pain and emptiness? Maybe. It’s an interesting puzzle to sort out, and Gosling has more than enough going on in his face to let the viewer try to work it out on their own – and there’s more than enough time for them to do so, since much of the movie is sustained shots of Gosling driving endlessly around the streets of Los Angeles, staring blankly ahead.

I understand why so many people hated it. The TV spots for this movie were tailored so that most people who saw them would assume that this movie was some sort of Gosling-centric Fast and Furious movie. Most of the spots looked like this:

Whereas this is a clip of the opening credits of the movie, which feels a little different:

The ad campaign was so misleading one disappointed moviegoer actually sued the studio about it. My favorite part of the suit? Where she complained that there was “very little driving in the movie.” I can only hope that someone once sued Paramount over how little snow there was in White Christmas. The lawsuit must have been at least partially successful, since this a more indicative trailer, and it literally asks the question “what do people see in this movie?” right at the beginning. That’s a lot of self-doubt for a TV spot. Did this commercial play on television? It seems unbelievable:

Me, I liked the slow pace of the film, checkered with occasional moments of startling violence of the Tarantinan variety (at one point, Gosling spends a good two minutes stomping off a guy’s jaw). But I saw the film in a theater with three other people, and one of them was so frustrated by the movie that he ended up answering two separate cell phone calls during the film. Even a movie with as limited draw as Drive still managed to divide its audience. Even for an indie movie, that’s pretty divisive.