Basic Plot: Stupidity
So around December of 2011 when all the Oscar nominations were popping up, I scoured the internet for all the typical backlash. You know, all the articles and forums and posts talking about who got robbed and who doesn't deserve a chance at the gold. One movie in particular that was popular in this mix was the movie Drive starring Ryan Gosling. The main points seemed to be that Albert Brooks should have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nod, and that the movie as a whole was grossly underrated.
They were half right.
Stories in general can be split into three parts. We all know this: beginning, middle, and end. And if you want to elaborate, you have the Setup, the Plot, and the Climax. Most movies pull this off just fine, especially action and adventure because in those kinds of movies these three parts pratically form themselves automatically. It's when you get to the genre-breaking films, the kinds I usually love watching, that this formula becomes more difficult to follow.
No Country for Old Men for example, nailed the setup and plot but offered no climax whatsoever. Punch Drunk Love had a rather confusing beginning but paid off big toward the end. And of course, Fight Club is orgasmically good all the way through. My main point here is that while some movies check all the necessary boxes and some don't, it doesn't matter as long as the movie has flow. You can get away with having one of these parts be mediocre and it won't ruin the film as a whole. You just need the film the keep a steady rhythm, a steady atmosphere, without too many shifts, so that the viewer doesn't say "wait, this is weird" or "this is random" or "where the flying hell did this come from?"
Which brings us to Drive. Drive also has a setup, plot, and climax, but all three parts seem like they were written by three different people, miles away from each other, and had all just finished watching a specific movie that affected their writing. The first twenty minutes feel like if Martin Scorcese directed Oceans 11. The next hour is like Lost in Translation without the good dialogue and vivid locations, and the last half hour is like the next chapter of the Saw franchise. It's rocky, jarring, and by the end you don't even understand what you just witnessed.
As you can probably tell, I wasn't a fan of this movie, but the worst part of it is actually the fact that the first 15-20 minutes are amazing. The introduction is simply The Driver, played by Gosling, driving two robbers away from a heist, and what makes it so compelling, so damn cool, is that instead of it being a high speed chase like we'd expect, The Driver relies on stealth to evade the authorities. There's a lot of hiding under bridges, taking side streets, all while being filmed with seductive lighting and camera angles. The sound is great too. You can practically feel the night air rush past your face. And when The Driver meets the intimidating yet lovable Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), you are genuinely excited for the project they are going to undertake. There is momentum here. You are pumpe
And then the movie says "aww you like that? Hmm, too bad fella, we're all out of the good stuff. But...um... how about a shitty love story?"
The Driver meets Irene, played by Carey-I-Have-The-Same-Facial-Expression-In-Every-Role-Mulligan, since they live in the same apartment building, and from there it seems like a fire, flood, or flock of rabid goats took out the next twenty pages of the script because THERE IS NO DIALOGUE. I've read that the two leads actors refused to say their lines because they wanted the mood to shape the romance.
Great. Lovely. Except that's ridiculous. You can't have us buy two people as being in love, or even having a sincere connection, if they don't speak to each other.
Now you might say, "what about The Artist? Or Wall-E?" Well, the first one had dialogue, it was just on placards, and at least Wall-E and Eve interacted with each other. The Driver and Irene do nothing. Nothing. You think the characters in Twilight stare at each other too much? Wait till you see the scene where these two dipsticks get back from their wordless date and sit in a kitchen for five minutes doing jack shit. And this relationship being meaningless wouldn't be the end of the world except that The Driver is shown earlier as having a very strict set of guidelines about what to do and not do during a job. He is shown as cold, meticulous, and highly devoted to his craft, and he's not the type to do something rash or thoughtless. Yet he completely jumps the rails and takes on a dangerous mission just to make sure Irene and her son aren't pestered by gangsters coming after the father. Who just got out of prison, by the way.
Here's my question. Why does The Driver give a damn? He's not portrayed as having any motivation to so much as skip work for these people, let alone risk his life. And you may notice how I didn't mention the bond between The Driver and Irene's son, and it's because there isn't one. Smiling at a kid while you're fixing a car and taking him on a wordless drive through an outdoor sewer system does not count as a real connection. Gosling's character is more unpredictable than the fucking stock market and there is no joy whatsoever in watching him on screen. Which is sad, considering he's one of the best actors working today (watch Lars and the Real Girl or Half Nelson)
So after an hour of nothing, the following things happen.
Someone gets their head blown off
Someone gets stabbed repeatedly in the eye with a fork
Someone's face is stomped in so much it turns into a pool of Jello
Someone is drowned in the ocean
Someone's arm is slit by a knife and dies from blood loss.
Two people stab each other in the middle of a parking lot.
I don't have much to say about this part of the movie because the fact that these things happened, without any logical or emotional buildup, renders it immune to scene-by-scene analysis because it's so retarded. You can't just chuck blood and violence at us and expect us to feel anything but revulsion. You can't turn a calculated, mute character into bloodthirsty, psychopathic Jason Bourne on a whim and have us suspend disbelief. Whether there's action, romance, comedy, or adventure, we need to care about the characters. We need to stake our interest in someone. We need to root for the home team. Otherwise we're just watching some people kill other people. It's just people......doing stuff.....for no reason or effect. It's boring. It's like showing up to a football game where half the players are sitting around playing with grass and the other half are tackling people at random. And then they ask why you aren't wearing your jersey or cheering.
There are three elements to this film that actually work: the badass introduction, the performance by Albert Brooks, and the electro-pop soundtrack, which the movie uses a crutch to get from Point A to Point Crap. And these three things just aren't enough. So some people will like the film, saying that it's "original" or "neo-noir" but the style of the film doesn't excuse its shitty execution. And people will like when the killings start, or enjoy the introduction as I did, but any movie that's "really good, just skip the boring parts" is NOT a well-made film. And this is an inconsistent, illogical, dull, over-stylized, half-assed, pretentious, pointless, bad film.
But seriously, get the soundtrack.
What Would Have Saved It: go back to the 20 minute mark, start over, and do it right.