An unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling), a Hollywood stunt driver by day and getaway driver by night, has a very specific set of rules for his life and his work, and Drive, director Nicolas Winding Refn’s vibrant character study, watches as he finds himself in one situation after another that causes him to break those rules. From the virtuoso opening chase sequence, the film is a thrilling marriage of characterization and style. Set against the backdrop of a slick and seedy Los Angeles, the story revolves around Driver’s relationship with an essentially single woman (Carey Mulligan) whose husband (Oscar Isaac) returns from prison with a debt to settle to criminals. Albert Brooks plays the villain, Brian Cranston is Driver’s boss/partner-in-crime, and Hossein Amini’s screenplay is empathetic to all its characters. It’s one of the best films of 2011. My review is here. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Narratively, Texas Killing Fields is a bit of a mess. It follows three detectives (a weary Jeffrey Dean Morgan, a brooding Sam Worthington, and an empowered Jessica Chastain) track down a killer. The investigation is piecemeal; information comes in fragments. By the end, there’s never much clarity about what has happened. Yes, these are fundamental faults, but screenwriter Donald F. Ferrarone and director Ami Canaan Mann are more concerned with the bare essentials of the genre than the winding and weaving plot. It’s about characters reacting to a growing aura of fear and turmoil as inescapable danger lurks around every corner. My review is here. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
The Big Year is pleasant to the point that it’s wholly disposable. It’s about three obsessed men who are determined to make something worthwhile of their lives by winning a birding (for the rest of us, birdwatching) competition. Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson play the trio. The first two are the underdogs; the last is the champion. It’s good-natured competition, and director David Frankel keeps the pace lively and the tone affectionate. There are hints of the isolation that comes with a passionate pursuit, but the few simple conflicts here are resolved too easily to really dig into these men lives. My review is here. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
In the future, people are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25 and then only have another year to live. They can earn additional time, which is the currency, by almost any means necessary. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is bequeathed over a century by a man who thinks he’s had more than enough time and decides to steal time from those attempting to be immortal and give it to those who literally live day to day–hour to hour. Puns and thinly veiled political statements ensue. The concept is not nearly as intelligent as the movie supposes. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
An odd prequel that might as well be a remake for all the elements it copies, The Thing relies on computer-generated effects to create its grisly freak show, and the results are shockingly clean. The parallels to John Carpenter’s 1982 original are too many to name (I like that this one, by keeping a few character types, implies that every scientific base in the Antarctic has a roguish helicopter pilot), and like its predecessor, it loses the paranoid concerns of people who think everyone around them might be a shape-shifting alien to become a standard chase movie. My review is here. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
As it turns out, I probably wasted a lot of effort in my review trying not to reveal the identity of the killer in The Double, since the movie’s trailer does so pretty quickly. Either way, the movie tells you exactly who the villain is just at the end of the first act, and I suppose the point is that the tension is supposed to come from the dramatic irony. It doesn’t, and the movie, a regression to 1980s Cold War paranoia and the genre conventions that resulted in the movies, hardly has a connection to reality. My review is here. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.