Blu-ray Review: Brilliant ‘Drive’ Deserves Better Home Release

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CHICAGO – “Drive” will surely be one of the most remembered and beloved films of 2011, no matter what Academy members (who notoriously snubbed the film except for one lone tech nod) may think. And so it is disappointing that the Blu-ray edition from Film District and Sony is surprisingly light on special features. The film itself looks (and especially sounds) incredible and, considering it was my #2 for 2011, is well worth a pick-up, but you can presume that this is a placeholder for a Special/Ultimate/Collector’s Edition inevitably down the road. Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Nicolas Winding Refn’s incredible film works on so many levels. It is a modern fairy tale, an examination of heroism filtered through the fairy tale culture of the underbelly of the movie machine. It is a pure action movie about a man rescuing a damsel in distress. It is a film in which immense style becomes substance with echoes of European cinema, Michael Mann’s work, and even David Lynch. And it looks amazing in HD.

A man known only as Driver (Ryan Gosling) works three jobs — stunt man, mechanic, and getaway driver. He is as matter-of-fact as they come, a character who listens and reacts much more than anything else (and, consequently, Gosling’s often-silent performance was tragically underrated). He does not get involved with his clients and seems not to be the kind of man who has any real friends outside of perhaps Shannon (Bryan Cranston), the dude who runs the body shop at which he works and manages his other career as well. He not unlike old-fashioned movie icons like Steve McQueen and it seems likely that Gosling’s character could become as iconic as the legendary actor’s.

Photo credit: Film District

Everything changes when Driver meets Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son. After a few chance meetings and help with her disabled vehicle, Driver gets close enough to Irene to meet her son and discover that her baby daddy Standard (Oscar Isaac) happens to be in jail, but will be coming home soon.

Photo credit: Sony

Meanwhile, Shannon is getting involved again with some shady gangsters headed by slick Bernie (Albert Brooks), who gets his muscle from the obnoxious Nino (Ron Perlman). Bernie finances a new vehicle which Driver will race, but that plotline quickly gets discarded when Standard comes home from the clink and informs our hero that he’s being pressured by jailhouse acquaintances to do “one more job” involving a pawn shop. To keep Irene and her son from potential danger, Driver agrees to help and a lovely woman named Blanche (Christina Hendricks) comes along for the ride. After the job goes horribly awry, things get very, very complicated.

The first half of “Drive” may seem like a standard romance — the knight who saves the damsel in distress. The second half plays not unlike “Taxi Driver.” Once Driver makes the decision to help Standard, Refn and writer Hossein Amini shift gears and pretty clearly telegraph where the film is going – Driver will make people pay. It’s not unlike the first half of the film is the set-up for the “job” – as Driver sits outside waiting to go into action – and the second half is the getaway. We know he will get to point B from point A. The only question is the route he will take.

Refn and his team deliver a film that, pardon the pun, works on all cylinders. It’s not “Fast Five,” so don’t pick it up expecting pure action. It’s much more stylish than the ads for this difficult-to-market film might have led people to believe. And it may have kept some people away — the arthouse crowd that will love this movie.

“Drive” already has legions of loyal fans but one would never know it from looking at the nearly bare-bones Blu-ray and DVD. They come with a quartet of featurettes but they were all films on-set and none feature a single interview with Gosling or Refn. Nothing from the film’s rapturous response at Cannes? No interviews that were done around the world to promote the film? No deleted scenes? No commentaries? I have rarely been more confident that a Blu-ray and DVD edition is purely a placeholder until a more Special Edition comes along. By then, “Drive” should be the smash hit that it deserve to be in much the same way that “Reservoir Dogs” and “Fight Club” didn’t make much in theaters and built their followings later on. “Drive” will have a HUGE one.

“Drive” stars Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, and Ron Perlman. It was written by Hossein Amini and directed by Nicholas Winding Refn. It is rated R and was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 31st, 2012. content director Brian Tallerico

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