Surprise … My Old Friend Albert Brooks Drives ‘Drive’

How Albert turned the playful, fun-loving comedy writer and director of the terrific film “Mother” into a terrifying hit man astounds me

Albert Brooks and I met in the late ‘70s in Hollywood. I remember his funky home and casual living style. All right. He was downright sloppy, but so am I. Never mind. He was funny. We laughed a lot. It was just before he began dating Linda Ronstadt. 

We hung out for a few months, and one day I remember visiting Alana Hamilton's home. This was while she was married to George and before she became Mrs. Rod Stewart. I didn't see Albert and Alana as being soul mates, but we did enjoy the afternoon and joked around in the California sun. 

Albert knew how to social climb along with the rest of us. Social climbing in Hollywood is similar to going on an audition. Meeting directors, actors and actresses under the sun is often times more relaxing and meaningful than in a studio setting.

But how Albert turned the playful, fun-loving comedy writer and director of the terrific film “Mother” into a terrifying mob hit man that he plays in “Drive” astounds me. Then I remembered his ambition. He had a ruthless side to him even as a comedian. Well, now aren't most comedians ruthless? In any event, my old pal from the late ‘70s turns in a bravura performance as mobster Bernie Rose in this much buzzed about film.

Even though I knew Albert was in “Drive,” I didn't want to see it because Ryan Gosling held no appeal for me. I thought of him as a lightweight with no charisma. And then I saw him in “Drive. “Gosling says more in a stare than the complete unabridged encyclopedia Britannica. His silence speaks volumes.

The minimalist script by Hossein Amini from a novel by James Sallis is a winner in that it is not cluttered with minutiae. Violence becomes his punctuation. Exclamation Points. It is swift. Over and out. You get the message. Sam Peckinpah could have learned from director Nicolas Winding Refn who won Best Director at Cannes. Refn does not linger on the gore and you don't always know when it is happening. When it's over you think, "Did I just see what I just saw?" and you did.

Irene (Carey Mulligan) is understated as Gosling's love interest. This only intensifies their relationship. The longing in their stares is charged with eroticism. Their silences are love affairs. No nudity in sex scenes and yet this is a very sexual movie about unrequited love. Unrequited because a contract is out on Gosling's life while he is falling in love with Mulligan and must protect her from the mob's wicked hit men.

Nino ( Ron Perlman) also understated is overshadowed by the powerful Oscar-worthy performance of Bernie Rose ( Albert Brooks). Brooks gets laughs in this film but he isn't funny. He is a vicious, mean mob man out to wreak havoc on Irene and her darling son, Benicio (Kaden Leos) who Gosling, whose character is referred to as "the driver," makes the film come alive. They have scenes together that are so touching that the violence is almost forgotten for an instance and then it rears its ugly head when it is needed to protect Irene's boy.

This story is about a Hollywood stuntman (Gosling) who moonlights as a driver of the getaway vehicle needed for heists.

"If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I'm yours no matter what. I don't sit in while you're running it down; I don't carry a gun … I drive," Gosling explains in the beginning of the film while I was thinking “ho hum.” My indifference didn't last long.

Gosling's expressions need no script. He is a thinking man's actor and refreshing to watch. I hope he stays away from the romantic comedies for awhile as they do not utilize his ability to earnestly and visually speak on his own without a script and to show economy of deep emotion with his face and especially his eyes. His mind has a script of its own.

Meanwhile, Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack is a character onto its own. It does not intrude in the silences, but when there is music it is with gusto and appropriateness as are the sound effects. I have never seen a film where the soundtrack becomes so important as a statement and a presence. 

But “Drive” belongs to the director, Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling, however it is Albert Brooks who wears an outlandish gray toupee with a pompadour yet who steals this film.