If it weren’t for a few critics writing less than favorable reviews for Drive, you would be looking at the year’s best reviewed film so far. The thing about Drive’s reception is that people either love it or hate it. This love/hate doesn’t seem to divide up the sexes, although I have to note I’ve yet to read one female critic who hated it. Who did hate it? AO Scott of the NY Times and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times – also David Edelstein of New York Magazine and JR Jones of the Chicago Reader (word has it Jonathan Rosenbaum gave it an F).
“Oh Clarice, your problem is you need to get more fun out of life.”
You really have to wonder what the extremes are about here. Why do some people love it and others hate it?
The heavyweights from New York and LA you really want to have in your corner come Oscar time — why, because much of the time their tastes align with Oscar. However, in terms of Best Picture you are still looking at a movie that is going to earn, if my imaginary/real calculations are correct, enough number ones to be very much in the conversation. So I’m counting it, right now, among the potential 6 to 10 Best Pic nominees for 2011, even with the two major coasts giving it a thumbs down. So who does like Drive?
Here are the 100 scorers, according to Metacritic:
Like “Michael Clayton,” “Drive” is a hushed, methodical ode to competence, a wistful wish-fulfillment fantasy in an age of mass screw-uppery. Like “The American,” it’s almost abstract in its willingness to eschew conventional plotting and dialogue for a subtle sound design and crisp, clean imagery.
Most important, like Clooney’s best movies, “Drive” features a compulsively watchable cipher at its center. Low-key, sleek and sophisticated, “Drive” provides the visceral pleasures of pulp without sacrificing art. It’s cool and smart. Some critics might even call it European.
The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern:
Most of the supporting performances are flawless. Ms. Mulligan gives Irene an air of bittersweet expectancy; you’re not sure, because Irene isn’t sure, whether she’s awaiting pleasure or pain. Mr. Isaac uses the astutely written specifics of the husband’s role to make him likable as well as memorable. Christina Hendricks’s Blanche is so much a moll that she should have been called The Moll. As the thug who once produced movies, Albert Brooks is both the essence of simplicity and evil incarnate; it’s a small but sensational performance. Ron Perlman, by contrast, is intrusively grotesque as another murderous monster, though the way he’s photographed suggests that it’s not his fault. The director, unduly taken by his actor’s singular physiognomy, may have allowed or encouraged the excess.
Then there’s Mr. Gosling, and the ongoing mystery of how he manages to have so much impact with so little apparent effort. It’s irresistible to liken his economical style to that of Marlon Brando; like Brando, he has a surprisingly light, even boyish voice that can seem to be escaping his throat, rather than being sent forth from it. But peerless though Brando was, he could be mannered to the point of self-parody. That hasn’t happened to Mr. Gosling. He keeps it fresh, whether it’s the droll self-assurance of his womanizer in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” or the doomily seductive inwardness of The Driver in “Drive.” He and this powerful film, which is ultimately about a moment of grace, deserve each other. He’s the medium’s most graceful minimalist.
Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers gives it a rare four star review (he only gives out like two of these a year):
Refn is wicked good with actors, paring down the dialogue in the script by Hossein Amini (deftly adapted from James Sallis’ novel) so that the backstory must play out on their faces. Challenge met. Gosling mesmerizes in a role a lesser actor could tip into absurdity. Bryan Cranston, on fire with Breaking Bad, brings wit and compassion to Driver’s fatherly mentor. And Mulligan is glorious, inhabiting a role that is barely there and making it resonant and whole. Prepare to be blown away by Albert Brooks, cast way against type as crime boss Bernie Rose. Brooks, an iconically sharp comic voice, has toyed with villainy before (see Out of Sight), but never like this. Brooks’ performance, veined with dark humor and chilling menace (watch him with a blade), deserves to have Oscar calling.
Violence drives Drive. A heist gone bad involving a femme fatale (an incendiary cameo from Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks) puts blood on the walls. Ditto a pounding Driver delivers at a strip club. An elevator scene with Driver, Irene and an assassin is time-capsule sexy and scary. In league with camera whiz Newton Thomas Sigel and composer Cliff Martinez, Refn creates a fever dream that sucks you in. Or maybe you’ll hate it. Drive is a polarizer. It’s also pure cinema, a grenade of image and sound ready to blow.
And last but not least, Roger Ebert —
Maybe there was another reason I thought of “Bullitt.” Ryan Gosling is a charismatic actor, as Steve McQueen was. He embodies presence and sincerity. Ever since his chilling young Jewish neo-Nazi in “The Believer” (2001), he has shown a gift for finding arresting, powerful characters. An actor who can fall in love with a love doll and make us believe it, as he did in “Lars and the Real Girl” (2007), can achieve just about anything. “Drive” looks like one kind of movie in the ads, and it is that kind of movie. It is also a rebuke to most of the movies it looks like.
There are more scores of 100 over at Metacritic.