Drive is a parody of Jason Statham movies; Killer Elite is a Jason Statham movie
Okay, Drive is something of a lesser-known movie, so I’m actually going to give you a plot synopsis, hopefully without spoiling everything like the trailer kinda does. Ryan Gosling plays the Driver, a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. He lives next to Irene, a single mother whose husband is in prison, and a chance encounter leads to him being drawn into their lives. When Irene’s husband is paroled, the Driver’s intimacy with Irene leads to a heist gone wrong. Heist gone wrong leads to shit getting real.
Now, you might recognize that as being something akin to the plot of every Jason Statham movie ever made. The Stat is a highly competent killer of people who is having a pretty good go of it, but then he falls for a bird and wants out, or wants out and falls for a bird, leading to him killing even more people than he normally would. The thing is, it’s played a lot straighter here…
See, Drive doesn’t really work as an action movie, so you shouldn’t go in expecting it to end with Ryan Gosling saying “Looks like the only thing you’ll be driving in… is a hearse,” before shooting Ron Perlman whilst diving through the air with a gun in each hand. If that had happened, it would be my entire review. It’s really more of a thriller, is what I’m saying. Because what isn’t thrilling about Ryan Gosling?
I think the movie actually metafictionally says it’s not about Jason Statham. The movie that Gosling is working on as a stuntman requires him to wear a bald mask, and who’s the one Hollywood action star who regularly goes bald? Okay, Vin Diesel. But what has Richard B. Riddick have to do with any of these proceedings? Basically, Drive explicitly identifies the Transporter-type movie as belonging in that universe’s movies (Drive itself started out as a Hugh Jackman actioner from the director of Doomsday. Which could’ve worked too) while it implicitly takes place in the real world.
This was a thought I had while watching the movie, but it really crystallized when I watched Killer Elite (which is a serviceable little thriller on its own, but it’s no Drive). There, Jason Statham is an assassin who has a crisis of conscience–it must be really hard to hire an assassin; too young and they’ll get mowed down in droves by the hero; too experienced and they’ll end up turning on you and protecting the target they’re assigned to kill. He’s in Australia for one minute of screentime before it turns out his mentor has been kidnapped and the only way to free him is to kill three badass SAS types. Inbetween killings, Statham stares out a window and has flashbacks to meeting Yvonne Strahovski down under, like, oh, hey, remember that time I fell in love? It’s about five minutes total, although to be fair, I don’t think it would take all that long to fall for Ms. Strahovski.
Naturally, Strahovski ends up threatened by the villains, requiring Jason to bring down the Stathammer. Now, in Drive, Irene is much the same character, but the movie spends a lot more time on her character and Gosling’s character and how their characters relate to each other.
And it works very well in terms of going “Yeah, so some guy who’s spent years of his life, not even killing people, but just being blase about enabling violent crimes, likes a girl. How’s that working out?” It’s almost like how Casino Royale took the traditional Bond girl relationship and then monkeyed around with it to break your heart.
Now, to transition past the “It’s really good and you should go see it, especially if you have seen or are otherwise aware of Jason Statham and the 20% of action movie plots that make up his filmography” part of the review, let us discuss Nicolas Winding Refn, who directed this. It may seem shallow or nerdy to discuss a director because he’s been really vocal about making a Wonder Woman movie, but when an auteur filmmaker intends to make a summer blockbuster with a female lead, I think it automatically merits some consideration.
Now, having seen Bronson, one of Refn’s earlier movies and the reason I would now be able to pick Tom Hardy’s penis out of a line-up, it occurs to me that most of Refn’s protagonists seem to be emotionally crippled individuals who best express themselves through brutal violence. Although I haven’t seen Valhalla Rising or the Pusher movies, so there could be a devil-may-care playboy in there somewhere, a song in his heart and a smile on his lips.
It just occurs to me that, although Diana can be portrayed as reserved or dignified, she isn’t someone who’s particularly turned around when it comes to her feelings. Which makes me wonder what appeals to Refn about the character? Is it that he’s looking to stretch himself as an artist and would like to tackle a subject that’s far afield of his usual work, because that would be fucking great. Or is this more of a David E. Kelley thing where he wants to make a statement about female-shaped superheroes and Wonder Woman springs to mind? Which I don’t get, because if Wonder Woman has so little name recognition that a filmmaker has to jump through hoops to get a film made about her, what’s the difference between a Wonder Woman movie and a Power Girl movie, if Power Girl is more what your guy is going for?
As I’ve said before, I’d be happy with even a Tim Burton-level fidelity to the source material when it comes to a character as beleaguered as Wonder Woman and a creator as talented as Refn. But I’m also not down for Ang Lee’s Hulk Part Ovaries.
Although… Drive started out as a book, with a topsy-survy timeline and oodles of backstory, which Refn took, streamlined, and condensed. The finished product doesn’t seem to be dumbed down, so much as left mostly to the imagination. And maybe such an approach to Wonder Woman would work too. I’ve talked before about how George Perez’s treatment of her, epic as it is, often leaves people in the dark when it comes to important things like why exactly Circe is a villainess. Maybe reducing things to their thematic center and letting them play out on screen could finally give America a Wonder Woman it could fall in love with.
By the way, I’m not getting into Christina Hendricks much, since she’s honestly playing a small part – the kind of role you’d expect Steve Buscemi to play. But it is nice that, even though she’s probably the most attractive woman you’ll ever see, she isn’t sexualized but simply treated as a character actor, complete with unflattering clothing and an unglamorous performance. It’s a bit refreshing compared to “Thank you for the files, secretary Angelina Jolie.”