Crime/Drama, 100 Minutes, 2011
I bounced around with this one a little. Was it just a lower-budget “The Transporter” [IMDB] or did it have something new to say? Word of mouth indicated greatness but the marketing material said “shallow and disposable”. Where, oh where, does the truth lie?
Ryan Gosling [IMDB] is the anonymous “driver”. Almost speechless throughout the first act he struck me more creepy (and, with his vacant half smiles, perhaps a little mentally challenged) than “strong and silent”. He’s a driver (it’s a theme). The opening sequence is straight out of “The Transporter” and, for better or worse, sets the tone. It shows us that he works for criminals (on his terms, but still) but not why he does.
The “why” of things is important to me. Without the first scene the rest of the movie plays as a descent into a criminal underworld and a powerful loss of innocence for the Driver. With the first scene intact the movie becomes a vignette in a larger (and possibly more interesting) story about the Driver’s history and motivations (none of which we ever see). His current motivation, protecting and pleasing a damsel in distress, provides context for his current actions but we get no explanation for his skill and ruthlessness.
As the plot evolves and the Driver’s enigmatic dark side is revealed, Gosling does get to stretch, but the real performances come from the supporting cast. Bryan Cranston [IMDB], Albert Brooks [IMDB] and Ron Perlman [IMDB] steal their scenes and, for me, made the movie work. Like most action movies the female lead (Carey Milligan [IMDB]) is given almost nothing to work with – she’s a fragile trophy to be looked at and protected, period.
My big complaint concerns the ending (or, more specifically, endings). If the movie had ended half-a-minute sooner it would have been classically debatable – a modern interpretation of “Shane” [IMDB]. It was, in my opinion, a perfect ending; then it continued. It only added about a minute but that one minute was enough to create significant confusion and cast doubt on prior motivations. It feels false, like an ending added to please a focus group.
Returning to the initial question this is definitely more than a “Transporter” clone. When it comes right down to it there’s really not that much driving (presumably for budget reasons). What there is, is tense, dramatic and exciting, but fairly tame by action-movie standards. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite succeed as an emotional journey, either, due to questionable narrative choices. It is good – often very good – but it’s also broken. Not unforgivably so, but enough to notice.