Richard Foreman/FilmDistrict
Gosling's nameless knight is straight from the '80s.
The Dinner : Collins Burger, at Collins Pub (526 Second Ave.).

The Movie : Drive


I'll Order the Ryan Gosling to Go, Please

Richard Foreman/FilmDistrict
Gosling's nameless knight is straight from the '80s.
The Dinner: Collins Burger, at Collins Pub (526 Second Ave.).

The Movie: Drive, at Meridian (1501 Seventh Ave.).

The Screenplate: The most appropriate culinary pairing with Drive, about a laconic double-crossed getaway man, would be to order take-out food and have it delivered. Only the caveat would be something like, "You have five minutes to get from White Center to downtown Seattle with my miso soup during rush-hour traffic; and if you're late or spill a drop, we'll kill the woman you love. Also, no tip." Ryan Gosling doesn't play that kind of driver in Drive; rather, he's a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights by helping burglars make clean getaways in the hectic streets of L.A. Another problem: His character is so heroic yet thin (the loner who lives by his own code, wearing retro driving gloves and '80s Burt Reynolds jacket, toothpick clenched between his teeth), that he has no depth of character or personal history to match up with Chinese or Italian or even American roadhouse food. His enemies (Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks) are surrounded with food, but the nameless driver never seems to eat. He comes from nowhere (i.e., somewhere beyond L.A., which might as well be Europe), has no kin, and goes home alone to rebuild carburetors at night. If he has roots, it's the '80s, corresponding to the youth of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, who channels his European-filtered appreciation for that decade (meaning its movies and TV shows) into every frame. Drive is, like its hero's fashion sense, earnestly anachronistic, without a trace of flea-market hipster irony. It's out of sync with everything else in theaters right now, as if miraculously freed from the vaults of 1981. So to eat after the movie, I took a step backward in time . . .

As J. Hoberman makes clear in his review of the film this week, Drive is a muscle car built of '80s parts, from Miami Vice to Moroder synth-pop. The long, tense pre-credit sequence of a heist leading to a Lakers game segues into an entire song--really an aria--that somewhat explicates Gosling's zero-affect character. "There's something inside you/It's hard to explain" goes the song (orchestrated by the French electro-house artist known as Kavinsky, sung by Brazilian vocalist Lovefoxxx). Refn plays "Nightcall" in its seeming entirety for the night-drunk, pink-scripted credits; even if the driver's emotions and allegiances shall remain somewhat inscrutable, the director's mad '80s passion is fully evident. Refn has a crush on that decade and his leading man; the movie springs forth like an animated poster from his adolescent bedroom wall (next to the Lamborghini Countach). If he'd been able to cast Drive as a 13-year-old, his hero would've been played by Jan-Michael Vincent.

So, from the '80s to . . . the '90s? Collins Pub has been a popular Pioneer Square watering hole since 2003. Particularly during summer months, happy hour spills out onto the sidewalk. It's not exactly trendy, but it's certainly cheerful. If you're on your way to a Seahawks or Sounders game, chilling after work, or grabbing a burger before heading back to work, it's the same friendly place. Flat-screen TVs over the bar are silent, playing American and European sports. There's no perky/annoying greeter, just a basket full of menus and the instruction to find your own booth (or seat at the inviting, long bar). If you want trendy, organic, locally sourced, or fusion, look elsewhere. Collins Pub has its deal well dialed-in; it's not a hub of innovation but a center of tasty reiteration. The top of the dinner menu barely tops 20 bucks, and the $11 Collins Burger is an enduringly popular staple--in part because it changes so little. Served on a split, domed roll, garnished with red onions and sharp cheddar, the sandwich is modestly sized. A big heap of fries, skins on, supplies the extra calories if you want them. (In support, a $5 pint of Boundary Bay IPA helps combat the salt.) There's a calm, unfussy presentation of the meal; it's delivered professionally and promptly--something like Gosling's services in the movie.

Stopwatch strapped to the wheel of his muscle cars, the driver grants his clients five minutes to get in and out of their heists; otherwise he leaves them. He gives his instructions, take 'em or leave 'em, by cell phone, then tosses the phone away. Apart from the kindly garage owner who employs him (Bryan Cranston), the driver has no friends. His credo amounts to this: "I don't have partners." But then he softens to the single mother Irene (Carey Mulligan) and young son who live next door; her ex-con husband returns, but with a prison debt to repay. The driver helps out, and everything goes wrong. There's not much plot to Drive, based on the 2005 crime novel by James Sallis, which probably has fewer words than the Collins Pub menu. So what's inside the driver? Does he have heroic qualities, as the shimmering soundtrack insinuates, or does he have a darker, less chivalrous side? Refn captures his hero's divided nature in an elevator scene mid-film, as the lights theatrically dim. There's a kiss, sudden violence, then the driver's scared, trembling, self-disgusted expression. He daren't show what lies beneath the cool self-control; he doesn't himself want to know what's boiling below. Or at least not to show it to Irene.

Back at the Collins Pub, the convivial jukebox is Phish and Soul Asylum. Good times! No angst or anger. If the ambience is a little out of step, so be it. The vibe isn't so calculated and orchestrated as Refn's Drive (which won him a directing prize at Cannes), but the mood seems a little retro. This joint is looking back, repeating predictable pleasures, not trying to create new culinary experiences. Yet that's what makes it a satisfying, pleasant after-work haunt; it's relaxed and not consciously striving for the past.

In contrast, Drive is entirely European and mannered in its obsessive recreation of the American '80s. Refn, now 41, moved with his parents to New York from 1978-87, so his youth corresponds almost exactly to the Reagan era and its slick entertainments. He resurrects it in Drive as a mythic age of heroes, monsters, and chaste damsels. The movie's a solemn tribute to the past, yet it doesn't feel reheated. There's no kitsch or winking at the bygone period or its conventions. And it makes most of summer's preceding so-called "action movies" look bloated and stale.

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