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Bleed Racer

Drive doesn’t go anywhere, despite Gosling and gore. Plus: Hollywood’s greatest (flawed) new female auteur.


Christina Hendricks: miscast in Drive (pictured), charming in I Don't Know How She Does It.  

September brings the higher trash like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, which is every bit as dumb as August’s Conan the Barbarian but awash in neon-lit nightscapes and existential dread, with killings so graphic that you can’t entirely believe what you’re gagging at. (You’ll never have to ask, 的s that person dead?) The hero (Ryan Gosling) is called 泥river because that’s what he does, and what he does is what he, you know, is. Driver opens the picture with a monologue that mixes cold facts (典here’s a hundred thousand streets in this city) with coldly pragmatic edicts to the criminals he carries to and from their high-pressure L.A. heists. (的 give you a five-minute window Anything happens a minute either side of that, and you’re on your own.) Driver is an anti-blowhard: taciturn, watchful, holding a matchstick between his teeth the way he holds his emotions in check. But he’s also one of God’s Loneliest Men. He needs someone to love, to risk everything for葉o give him a Reason to Drive.

Refn, a Dane, is the sort of man to take Hollywood action movies to the next slick, amoral, and unbelievably vicious level. In Drive’s production notes, he says, 的’m very interested in the dark side of heroism, how that unstoppable drive and righteous adherence to a code above the average person’s can shade into something that is quite psychotic. Right, the duality謡e get it. But Refn doesn’t recoil from that psychosis: He digs its potential for splatter. The murders are what gore freaks call 砥ltra-wet, with the camera stationed happily in the middle of crimson showers. Without the extreme violence, Drive would be a lifeless rehash of such self-consciously existential thrillers as Walter Hill’s The Driver and Michael Mann’s Thief instead of, 徹h, shit, oh, God, this is so friggin’ hard-core!

Give Refn points as a mechanic. He’s deft. In an early heist sequence, Driver uses his knowledge of the urban maze to evade both cruisers and copters, and it’s such a tight, twisty piece of staging that you wait for Driver to show off his genius for geography again. But after that, it’s all exploding heads and slashed throats.

Why would Gosling, a fascinatingly cerebral actor, take a role so far inside his comfort zone? Does he long to strike action-icon poses葉o be the new Nic Cage? He’s sane enough to keep the movie from drifting into Cagean camp, but considering where it does go, that’s a hollow victory. Driver’s bare apartment is down the corridor from a pretty young mother (Carey Mulligan) and her lonely little boy, who make Driver’s (and the movie’s) sap rise and lead to some moist domestic montages蓉ntil the husband and father (Oscar Isaac) gets out of prison and takes back what’s his. But the ex-con is in debt to thugs who threaten to kill his wife and son if he doesn’t commit a robbery, whereupon Driver謡ho has given up driving擁s driven to make one last drive

People will line up for Drive for a look at some of the hottest actors of the moment預nd see little indication of what made them hot. Mulligan brings nothing to her part but drab earnestness, and Christina Hendricks (as a moll) looks as if she wandered onto the wrong set. It’s fun to see Bryan Cranston幼loser every week to finding his inner psychopath in Breaking Bad, from which Refn could learn much about mixing extreme violence and moral complexity揚imp it up as Driver’s sweet, luckless mechanic. But the only surprising turn is by Albert Brooks as a shady businessman who plays his cards close to the vest. There’s something magical about this performance: You can taste Brooks’s pleasure in not, for once, having to work so hard to open himself up and be crazily, humiliatingly vulnerable. Now he can relax and stay inside himself and open other people up謡ith a straight razor.

America has a new A-list auteur預mazingly enough, a screenwriter, and, even more amazingly, given Hollywood’s biases, a woman. Aline Brosh McKenna’s films include The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, Morning Glory, and now I Don’t Know How She Does It. All are smart comedies centering on smart, harried, ambitious women who fight off obstacles thrown in their path by threatened males and, often, females傭efore they realize, in shame, that they’re in danger of losing the humanity that separated them from their type A adversaries. McKenna has a gift for screwball dialogue: She gets the connection between headlong rhythms and psychological desperation. The problem is that her screenplays have soft centers, not female-squishy but Hollywood-squashy, her heroines’ heroic assertions of independence coinciding with her own surrender to commercial conformity. In the context of so much wit, the pandering is scary.

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