Spin your wheels

09:17, Nov 04 2011
Hell of a ride: Ryan Gosling keeps the pedal to the metal in <i>Drive</i>.

Crime caper takes right road for action-packed blast. 

Drive, R18, 100 mins four stars

The Debt, R16, 113 mins, four stars

The moment  Ryan Gosling, toothpick dangling from mouth, straps on his leather driving gloves and takes off to some mysterious destination, you sense this film is going to be one hell of a ride. The bright pink 1980s-style font in the title sequence and a Vangelis-inspired soundtrack are evidence that Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn knows how to inject more than a little panache into an otherwise derivative crime caper. The fact that Drive seems to derive from the very best of its genre simply makes the comparisons thrilling.

Think Michael Mann directing Tarantino's True Romance, starring a young Nic Cage lookalike, photographed like Scorsese's Taxi Driver. The bright lights of LA pimp out the perfect backdrop for Gosling's unnamed antihero, who works as a Hollywood stuntman by day and a getaway-driver-for-hire by night. Frustratingly taciturn, we don't learn anything about his private world, but his shiny white bomber jacket and nonchalant gait indicate the "Driver" can handle himself. Probably if you were there next to him in real life, Gosling's steady gaze would come off as creepy – but on celluloid, he's enthralling.

He becomes gently embroiled in the life of the single mum next door (an unusual, but largely successful, change of scene for Carey Mulligan), whose jailbird husband is played with typical intensity by the very fine Oscar Isaac (Sucker Punch, Body of Lies). Christina Hendricks dons a tracksuit and attitude, and there are great performances from the older thugs, notably Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston and movie legend Albert Brooks.


Adapted for the screen by the talented Hossein Amini, whose previous work includes excellent period pieces, Drive feels like a heady return to the best 90s' crime movies, not afraid to discharge a shotgun, stomp on a head, or stick a fork in someone's eye. It's brutal, it's gruesome and it's a blast.

* * *

The writers of Kick Ass have created an altogether more mature offering in the form of this historical spy thriller, no doubt influenced by their director, John Madden (best known for Shakespeare in Love and Mrs Brown).

Israel, 1966: three young Mossad agents return from a mission to capture and bring to justice a Nazi war criminal. Heralded as heroes for the next three decades, the truth about their time in Berlin comes back to haunt them in later life, causing upset and a requirement for loose ends to be tied up.

Flitting back and forth between past and present, the strong cast includes Helen Mirren and the ubiquitous Tom Wilkinson, with shining starlet Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life and The Help) and New Zealand's Marton Csokas as their younger selves. Only occasionally do the Israeli accents belie the Antipodean within (Avatar's Sam Worthington has a pivotal role, though it's weakly played) but it's not hard to suspend your disbelief, and many of the set pieces manage to evoke (admittedly superior) counterparts like Munich. Chastain is particularly good, the scenes in which she inveigles her way into the medical practice of the Nazi-turned-gynaecologist serving to create incredible tension, and revulsion at what she must go through in the interests of duty. As the hunted doctor, Jesper Christensen (the shadowy Mr White in the recent James Bond movies) is manipulatively excellent.

Harking back to the days of old-fashioned spy thrillers, the plot is gripping and revelations unexpected. The aforementioned loose ends may be conveniently tied by the end, but the exercise itself shows passion and commitment to the cause.

Sunday Star Times