Top Ten Movies of 2011 – Number Nine

drive

My favorite moment in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive–the moment that encapsulates everyone that’s special about this reinvention of the old-school action movie–isn’t especially iconic or gripping in a conventional way. It’s not the elevator attack or some burst of shocking violence perpetrated by the main villain. Instead, it’s the moment, in the midst of a tense car pursuit when Ryan Gosling’s character, billed in the credits only as “Driver,” evades his adversary in the other car by simply pulling into a darkened corner in the brick and steel canyons of the city, cutting the lights and killing the engine. The film’s overt homage gives way to a distinctive and profoundly singular statement of purpose: this is a work that is going to play by its own rules. Winding Refn embraces slow movement, methodical quiet, striking stillness that cuts against all the expectations of what happens in the movies when gleaming sports cars, fearsome weaponry and twisty, duplicitous doings are all on display. Emphasizing the point, there’s even a brief glimpse of the contrary approach when Driver works his occasional day job as a stunt driver on a movie set, barrel-rolling a police car in a typically exaggerated bit of vehicular mayhem. Drive is assembled with a precision that is almost agonizing, developing tension from the tightly controlled certainty of the filmmakers. The film’s capacity to shock is heightened by the sense that Winding Refn and screenwriter Hossein Amini (adapting a novel by James Sallis) can spring their trap at any point they want, and will do so as coolly as the mobster played with brilliant casual menace by Albert Brooks, who will offer soothing assurances even as he’s exacting a death sentence. There’s nothing like a firm sense of control to emphasize all the ways that situation can rend themselves apart.

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