Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Reyn is a young director with an unflinching love of hard driving action and intense psychological explorations. His feature debut Pusher in 1996, with its extreme violence front and center, earned cult phenomenon status and spawned two follow-ups in 2004 and 2005, plus a retrospective of the trilogy at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. Seemingly everything was leading Reyn to write and direct Bronson, another hyper-violent movie about Charles Bronson, one of Britain’s most infamous criminals, with the sensational Tom Hardy in the title role.
And now, Reyn hooks up with Gosling, another similarly focused presence who kicked his own white-knuckle career off with The Believer (as a self-hating Jew who becomes a neo-Nazi thug) and garnered an Academy Award nomination for his searing portrayal of a drug addicted teacher in Half Nelson. Gosling has recently shifted into more mainstream fare like this summer’s Crazy, Stupid, Love and the upcoming George Clooney political drama The Ides of March.
Speaking of Clooney, the Gosling-Reyn dynamic calls to mind Clooney’s resurgence once he teamed up with Steven Soderbergh, a filmmaker with the chops to cross back and forth across the independent-mainstream storytelling divide.
The superb mix of comedy and violence in the cape-rish Out of Sight beget the lightweight ensemble gem Ocean’s Eleven (along with sequels Twelve and Thirteen) beget the Andrei Tarkovsky remake Solaris, which propelled Clooney and Soderbergh into the higher echelon of American cinema.
So the blazing pathway is there for Gosling and Reyn and it begins with a distinctly American brand of film that combines true grit and machismo. That is what these two celebrate with Drive.
The simplistic title says all that needs to be said. Its protagonist, the rather bluntly named Driver (Gosling), is a stunt driver, a coolly efficient professional who moonlights as a getaway driver. He never carries a gun or leaves the car, but once the job is done and escape is all that matters, he is your man. He is Steve McQueen, the hero and man of few words or expressions from the early.mid-’70s brought into the ’80s by Michael Mann (Thief) and William Friedkin (To Live and Die in LA). He’s a loner-criminal type with a code and a life that will get complicated.
On one hand, there is a woman, Irene (Carey Mulligan), a single mother with a baby daddy just out of jail in need of money and looking for a job that needs a driver. On the other side, there is Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), a money man with dirty hands who has backed a racing team with Driver behind the wheel and whose partners are caught up in all aspects of the criminal underworld.
Driver sits squarely in the middle and, once things go awry, there is brutality that cuts to the chase, gunning the engine while drifting expertly through the hairpin turns. It is a fun ride that certainly satisfies the need for speed, but as is the case with most of these kinds of movies, there is little in the way of thematic heft. We don’t know this world or its players (although Gosling and Brooks make you believe that such men certainly are more than figments of Hollywood fantasies) any better than we did before sitting down in the theater, and the only thing that matters once its over is that they remain up there on the screen, safely removed from us.
But Gosling and Reyn, with upcoming collaborations already in discussion (Only God Forgives officially has the green light, while a Logan’s Run remake is in full-gossip mode), appear ready to take us along on more spirited rides in the future. Grade: B+
Opens wide Sept 16.