In the early 2000s, Sylvester Stallone was struggling to rebuild himself from some of his cheesy action movies of the 90s, and these efforts didn’t all meet with much success. Get Carter is a remake of a 1971 film of the same name starring Michael Caine in the title role, and this remake was received with negative criticism and a poor box office take. However, I saw this film on opening weekend, and I have very much liked it ever since. Having still not seen the original movie, I imagine I have the ability to view it much more objectively. Still, almost any movie promising Sylvester Stallone in a fist fight with Mickey Rourke and a hilarious John C. McGinley is pretty cool to begin with, but I honestly feel the film has a lot of worthwhile merit in many regards.
His name is Jack Carter, and you don’t want to know him. When it’s your time to settle your debts, you pay what you owe, or Carter will make you pay. While working for the mob in Las Vegas, Carter (Sylvester Stallone) learns that his brother has died, and returns home to Seattle in order to learns the how’s and why’s. His brother left behind a wife, Gloria (Miranda Richardson), and a teenage daughter, Doreen (Rachel Leigh Cook), which Jack feels he must now take care of since he was not around when it mattered most. Though, when digging into the death of his brother, Jack comes to suspect that is was no accident, and that someone has to pay up.
Now, what even some of the middle of the road reviews gave credit to was that Stallone is solid as Jack Carter, and I enthusiastically agree. I really like that Jack is a guy who carries a weight of regret with him to where he has this post-facto sense of responsibility. He might be a guy who beats people up for a crime syndicate, but there’s a certain moral compass to Jack which Stallone grasps onto perfectly. There’s a lot of subtlety to his performance showing the superb reversal on the over-the-top action hero roles of Judge Dredd or Demolition Man. He brings with him a low key presence of intimidation, but still finds those moments of clever signature Stallone charm and wit. Jack Carter has a warm heart and compassion for those he cares about, and this comes so very naturally to Stallone. There’s such a great depth of dimension to what he does here. Sly gives us a complex character who intensifies the emotional drive of the film. It’s also amazing seeing how bulked up Stallone got for this movie. He’s larger than ever, and it really works for Jack’s tough, bad ass presence. Yet, it is that softer side of Jack Carter that really impresses as he shows a lot of pain after a certain point really hitting you deep in the heart, and that translates into a venomous vengeful determination in the film’s third act. It’s an awesome, compelling performance by Sylvester Stallone that amazingly reminds you that he can be a stunning, complex actor. I think it’s one of his best performances since First Blood.
A lot of the depth of heart and substance is carried on through Miranda Richardson and Rachel Leigh Cook. Richardson is great as Gloria who is in this constant uncertainty about Jack. At times she can confide in him about her problems with Doreen, but at other times, can condemn Jack for bringing further trouble upon them and being absent from their lives until Richie died. Richardson has pitch perfect chemistry with Stallone standing strong on her own while showing the emotional turmoil inside. Meanwhile, Cook very easily endears herself to Jack and an audience with some sad sweetness and sympathetic charm. As certain things are revealed, and far more tragic layers are peeled back from Doreen, Cook is really able to demonstrate the soul of her heartbreaking talent. It really ends up being the pulsating emotional core of this film.
I really like the scenes between Stallone and Mickey Rourke. These are two actors who genuinely seem like they enjoyed working off each other. They’ve got the right rhythm and chemistry that these two characters should have being old acquaintances and all. Rourke has the right charisma and air of sleaze as Cyrus Paice which makes him very entertaining to watch, but also, a real piece of scum that you want to see get busted up by the end. Rourke and Stallone are two buffed up bulls ready to lock horns regularly, and when they do finally trade punches, it’s a straight up bad ass brawl.
Anyone who loves John C. McGinley’s comedy work would also love him here. He plays Con McCarty, an associate of Jack’s in the Las Vegas syndicate, and I swear he ad-libbed the majority of his dialogue. It is just so brilliantly quick witted, off the cuff, and hilarious that he’s an utter, endless joy. It’s a performance like this which shows that this is a film that is interested in balancing the heavyweight drama with sharp beats of levity. And Alan Cumming is quite good as the geeky wet rag dot-com millionaire of Jeremy Kinnear who has gotten in way too damn deep with seedy individuals. He is a pleasure to watch in this role as Stallone looms over him with his brute intimidation. Of course, Michael Caine does a fine job in a somewhat small role as Richie’s now former employer, and Caine and Stallone have some solid scenes together. Apparently, even Caine endorsed Stallone as a respectable successor to his original role, and including him in this cast was a really nice touch.
I really adore the look of this film from director of photography Mauro Fiore. It’s soaked in this somber tone of overcast gloom of blues and greens that really absorb you into the tone of the movie. Director Stephen Kay really pushed hard to have this filmed in Seattle, and the beauty of the rain soaked city makes the film feel a little more unique. There’s also some unconventional style to Get Carter that might not work for many films, but all of the artistic flourishes really meld together beautifully, in my opinion. The strategic slow motion beats add a sense of grace to the photography, and Fiore moves the camera extremely competently with plenty of steadicam. I like that when Jack’s whole world turns upside down so does the camera accentuating a particularly unique filmmaking style that I really like here. There is some stylish editing with a few jumpy cuts, flash frames, and speed changes. I could see how some would find that irritating, but I really got absorbed into the mindset of this movie. Stephen Kay uses these stylistic choices to slip you into a character’s perception such as Jack’s world fracturing. Get Carter was edited by Academy Award winner Jerry Greenberg who also edited The French Connection, Apocalypse Now, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Scarface. Here, he superbly executes Stephen Kay’s vision right from the opening credits sequence onward.
There is a great, moody collection of music here in addition to Tyler Bates’ unique and stylish score. The original theme for the 1971 film by Roy Budd is utilized and remixed for this remake, and it is a beautiful composition that just tingles my senses. There are some techno tracks infusing some dance club style vibes into the movie. I particularly love the ethereal Moby track during the funeral scene. All of this music creates a very soulful or energized originality to this film that melds well with its visual stylings.
There is some really well put together action including a couple of very smart, tense car chases. Action directors who love their shaky cam could learn something from this film. Stephen Kay does make use of some unsteady photography and tight framing, but the editing is properly paced so to not confuse an audience. There are quick cuts, but because the lighting is clear, the compositions are just right using good angles, it all works. The latter car chase is really great, and it has a really cool stunt crash at the end. Yet, while there is exciting action, this film maintains that emotional and character based focus as Jack Carter delves further into the seedy underbelly of Seattle.
When Jack goes into full-on revenge mode, this movie gets dead-on bad ass. The grit really surfaces in the visual style and Stallone’s performance. Everything gets pretty dark and intense as Jack deals out his sense of personal justice in violent, sometimes lethal ways. This is a revenge movie driven by a lot of emotional depth and substance. Jack is going to clean out the trash, but the mending of emotional wounds is just as important to him, if not more so. It’s all wrapped up in his personal sense of obligation to the extended family he’s neglected, and a need to prove to himself and others that he can be a better man than his history has shown. There’s also a subplot where Jack Carter is involved with the syndicate boss’ woman back in Vegas, and this runs through the film a little. It’s another emotional tether that puts stress upon Jack especially when Con is sent to “take care of business” with much intended finality. Most revenge movies are just about the violent retribution, but this movie really delves you deeply into the hearts and souls of its sympathetic characters.
Get Carter is damn good, in my opinion, because it does take the time to develop its character and give you a dimensionality to connect with. You feel Jack’s pain and his need to put things right, and your sympathy easily flows for Doreen as the film progresses. Stephen Kay did do a really exceptional job with making these characters feel poignant, and have the consequences of everyone’s actions feel like they carry the weight of the world. This is really the kind of revenge thriller that truly captivates me because it’s not just gunning people down for ninety minutes, which does have its satisfying qualities. The substance of everything here saturates the film, and Stallone carries it all so amazingly well. The ending might have used a little more weight and veracity, but the payoff is satisfying regardless. I highly recommend this remake of Get Carter. If you’re a Stallone fan, like me, you should definitely give this a watch.
I have a tendency to miss out on great films in the theatre due to an uncertainty about them. I can get so used to how mainstream films are marketed that when I see something distinctly different, it’s hard to be sold on it. Thankfully, better late than never, some trusted word of mouth finally got me to check out Drive. To my sensibilities, this is an astonishing, flat out amazing film. This feels like if Michael Mann made a movie between Thief and Manhunter, and was scored by Tangerine Dream. This is fully evocative of a 1980s neo noir crime thriller with its sense of tone and atmosphere and using a magnificent soundtrack to envelop an audience into its emotion. Beyond that, I feel Drive is also brilliant.
Ryan Gosling stars as a Hollywood stunt driver by day that moonlights as a wheelman for criminals by night. He’s employed and aided by Shannon (Bryan Cranston), a former stuntman who is propositioning the shady Bernard Rose (Albert Brooks) to invest in a race car venture with this “Driver” as their star. Though a loner by nature, the Driver can’t help falling in love with his beautiful neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld by the return of her ex-convict husband. After a heist goes wrong, Driver finds himself driving defense for the girl he loves, tailgated by a syndicate of deadly serious criminals including Rose himself and the bull-headed Nino (Ron Perlman). Soon he realizes the gangsters are after more than the bag of cash, and is forced to shift gears into a brutal, unrelenting head-on collision.
I will grant that the film is not heavy on plot. It’s fairly simple and straight forward keeping itself contained to a small collection of characters. Some might find that a letdown. However, the substance of this film is in the presentation. Ryan Gosling’s character is very minimal on dialogue allowing his presence and the atmosphere of the film to carry the Driver’s weight. The performance alone is very understated and low key, but not skimping on intensity or humanity. His carefully chosen words hold purpose, and Gosling’s soft spoken delivery forces an audience to focus their attention closely. Sometimes, a lack of dialogue can bring a mystique and an intriguing quality to a character, and Gosling sparks that magic. His performance allows you to read more into the man instead of him telling you about who he is, and that’s not an easy thing to pull off. The scenes where the Driver and Irene are together bring a subtle charm and heart to the surface. You see the brightness in the soul of this character that contrasts, and later, compliments his grittier, darker side. When he has to become that more intimidating, brutal person later on, Gosling has no problem being convincing. You can feel his visceral intensity permeating the screen. I was impacted hard by those razor sharp moments, and this all comes together in a rock solid piece of work by Ryan Gosling. This is my first exposure to his talent, and I couldn’t be more blown away. Also, wrapping him in that Scorpion jacket is just wickedly cool.
Carey Mulligan puts in a gracefully beautiful performance. She and Gosling have a fine chemistry that gives the film its warmth and purpose. Their performances reflect nicely off of one another with heart and subtlety. She never has to say a word to reflect Irene’s emotional conflict over her feelings between her husband and the Driver. Mulligan touchingly shows that in her eyes and expressions, and how she gravitates to this new charming, under spoken man in her life. It’s an engaging and inviting piece of work.
Albert Brooks is a shocking powerhouse heavy here. He’s intimidating as all hell while still having his light hearted, humorous moments. Still, I never stopped getting that shady feeling from him that he was a mob boss that could slash your wrist or stab you in the eye with a fork without batting an eyelash. There’s such a fine line the character treads that Brooks walks with ease. Even when he’s being friendly, there’s still that sense of unease behind everything he says, and even before you know he’s a mob boss, you get the feeling that there’s something not entirely straight about Bernie Rose. For me, he ranks amongst the best like Christopher Walken in True Romance or Robert Prosky in Thief. He can turn from being your best friend to your absolute worst enemy in half a heartbeat without even seeing a shift in the character’s manner. It’s all rather matter of fact with him, and Brooks carries the appropriate weight to achieve these character traits throughout the picture. I love Albert Brooks’ performance supremely.
The supporting cast is also finely textured. Bryan Cranston has a broken down heartfelt sympathy as Shannon, the mechanic and former stuntman that aids and endorses Gosling’s character. He’s a good natured person who gets in too heavy with the wrong people, and you can’t help but feel for him when things turn worse. Ron Perlman’s gangster character of Nino is interesting. He’s a Jewish man trying to make himself out to be an Italian mobster. It’s not an overt part of his performance, but it ties into Nino’s motivations for being a “belligerent asshole,” as Bernie Rose puts it. Nino has plenty of bravado and ego, but not a lot of good sense. Perlman nicely inhabits those qualities with plenty of enthusiasm. Oscar Isaac does well as Irene’s husband Standard. The character clearly stands out as a person stuck in a number of unwanted situations. These criminals are violently pressuring him to do this job for him to pay back his debt, and it’s subtlety obvious that his wife does not want to be with him, anymore. Isaac shows the character’s regret well, and comes off more of a sorry man than a sympathetic one. He’s a guy that’s made a mess of things, and knows nothing will ever be okay ever again. The damage is done, and he’s just trying to sweep it under the rug as neatly as possible. However, he’s endangered the lives of his wife and son, and the Driver has no sympathy for the man. He only helps him out for the benefit of Irene and Benicio. These actors all add a strong array of emotion to the film which heightens the tone and atmosphere.
Now, speaking of atmosphere, the score constantly hit me as something very akin to Tangerine Dream’s score for Risky Business. It has that very light, dreamy quality to it most times, but does delve into very dark, heavy territories. There are foreboding, tense moments in this score that are just mesmerizing. Cliff Martinez crafts a deeply enveloping auditory experience which soaks into nearly every fiber of the film, but the filmmakers pick key moments where silence holds more weight than a soundtrack. The collection of songs in this film retain that 1980s ambient synth-pop quality, but have a modern quality that is beyond my ability to articulate. From my own independent filmmaking experiences, I know how insanely difficult it is to find modern original music that sounds like it came from the 1980s. So, the fact that music supervisors Eric Craig and Brian McNeils discovered and assembled music of this amazing style and quality impresses me to no end. I purchased the CD soundtrack, and it now ranks as one of my absolute favorites of all time.
The chase scenes of Drive are masterful. The first one is exceptionally smart being tactical in evading the police instead of going for outright action. That aspect come later after the botched robbery. It’s short and to the point being very slam bang intense, and not over indulging in itself. The opening sequence is exceptionally refreshing by being intelligent. On top of being realistic and smart, it is an excellent introduction to our main character showing his precision as a getaway driver. These scenes are expertly shot accentuating the distinct tones and tensions of both sequences.
When this film gets brutal, it holds nothing back, and hardly goes in predictable directions. The Driver never relies on a gun, and instead, goes with blunt force trauma to inflict violence upon people. The scene where he goes into the strip club wouldn’t be nearly as effective if he just brandished a gun the guy’s face. When you see the Driver pull out a hammer, you know this is going to be dead serious business, and it’s not going to be pretty. It’s a startling, powerful sequence which further propels the character’s threat level. He’s not just some cool headed amazing driver, he’s a dangerous man not worth crossing. The violence overall is graphic and gory, and shockingly unsettling. Emotion just pours through these scenes.
I am further floored by the cinematography talents of Newton Thomas Sigel. I’ve previously reviewed his work on The Usual Suspects and Fallen – both gorgeous films with their own identities. Drive is no different. No shot is ever wasted, and every composition is chosen with purpose. How the film is shot reflects the artistic vision realized with the music, acting, and editing. The film has inspired moments of absolute cinematic beauty due to Sigel’s artistic brilliance. The elevator scene late in the film is a magnificent example of this. The lighting and color tones used throughout create rich visuals which enhance the film’s atmosphere further.
This is a film where every element is cohesively used to create a powerfully enveloping experience. The conservative editing style of Matthew Newman allows Sigel’s shots to hold their weight, and establish a somber or rich tone that draws an audience into every moment. The music enhances those moments to create a wonderfully vibrant sonic quality for even the most still or fluid sequences. I haven’t seen a film like this since Manhunter. The music plays such a prominent role in creating a rich atmosphere that is as in the forefront of the picture as the actors. Each aspect is integral towards what is a wonderfully engrossing motion picture.
Drive is something which shows what independent film can do. It takes chances. It goes for a filmmaking style that has not really been around in more than twenty years. It takes an immensely effective way of crafting and presenting a film that a major studio would likely not embrace. It’s an intelligent, fresh, and creative film that feeds the senses. It gives you white knuckle action, a heartfelt romantic storyline, strong character drama, graphic brutality, gorgeous cinematic moments, intelligent writing, amazing performances, and a beautiful, exciting soundtrack. It’s hard to imagine all of these phenomenal visual and auditory elements coming across in a screenplay, but Hossein Amini clearly wrote something truly inspiring on those script pages to inspire the amazing film we ultimately got. I know nothing of the James Sallis novel this was based on, but clearly, the written word captured the vibrant imagination of these filmmakers. I will admit that Drive is not a mass audience movie as it requires an appreciation for a certain filmmaking style, but for those that love a slick 1980s style crime thriller that utilizes strong atmosphere and a prominent synth-pop soundtrack to wrap you up in its story and characters, this is absolutely for you. In my view, Drive is a meticulously crafted masterpiece of cinema born out of a bold vision from director Nicolas Winding Refn. I love this film thoroughly, and I cannot give it a higher recommendation than that.