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Toronto 2011: Film critic Betsy Sharkey on 'Drive' and 'Rampart'

September 12, 2011 |  9:54 am

Woody Harrelson in Rampart
Think of 2011 as the year L.A. Road Noir returned.

The seedy brilliance Michael Mann revved up in 2004's "Collateral," with Jamie Foxx's cabbie on a high-octane ride for his life through the slick streets of Los Angeles, has come roaring back this week at the Toronto International Film Festival with "Drive" and "Rampart."

These two films join "The Lincoln Lawyer," featuring Matthew McConaughey's legal back-street driver earlier this year, and director Chris Weitz's barrio-driven "A Better Life" this summer in ripping through the city, laying down their dreams and revenge like rubber.

What all the filmmakers recognize –- and capture -- is the beauty and the particular vibe of a city cut to ribbons by highways, overpasses, underpasses, littered back alleys and tree-lined boulevards. Life happens here.

In Toronto, it was "Drive" and "Rampart" putting everything on the line from behind the wheel. Director Oren Moverman, who put Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson on road trips to deliver death notices so powerfully in “The Messenger” a few years ago, has moved from East Coast rural byways to the heart of L.A.’s ghetto in "Rampart" to tell the story of a tainted LAPD beat cop trying to dig himself out of a very deep hole.

Foster is almost unrecognizable as a wheelchair-bound homeless guy, which gives space for Harrelson to be explosive as a cop with a zero-to-60 temper who would rather fight first and ask questions later. And it's great to see Robin Wright, steel and sadness etched in her face, driven by her own demons as a lawyer/barfly/love interest.

Meanwhile, the drive in "Drive," with director Nicolas Winding Refn putting Ryan Gosling behind the wheel, delivers a white-knuckle ride through L.A.'s grime and crime. Gosling cranks up the intensity to almost unbearable effect with the tick, tick, tick of a clock and the bad guys right on his tail. Through it all, Gosling's Driver is unblinking, unfazed as the city, indeed life, goes screaming by the window. And we get to see it all, with Refn masterfully scratching L.A.'s seedy underbelly.

Toronto audiences have lined up in droves to go along for both rides. Who can blame them?


"Drive": Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn share the ride

Toronto 2011: Woody Harrelson and Oren Moverman build a rampart

Campaign for Ryan Gosling's "Drive" gets turbocharged [Trailer]

-- Betsy Sharkey in Toronto

Photo: Woody Harrelson's bad cop drives hard in "Rampart." Credit: Merrick Morton