Trailer Tracking: ‘Drive,’ ‘Contagion,’ ‘Paranormal Activity 3,’ ‘Haywire’

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CHICAGO – However, unexpectedly, the past few weeks have seen the release of some major trailers for movies that are targeted for typically off-season release months (September, October, January), and most of them look fairly awesome. While a few underwhelm (looking at you, “Paranormal Activity 3”), the rest feature some of the coolest, most exciting movie trailers that we’ve seen all year.

(One is even in the running for the absolute best trailer of the year so far.) And, while they might not feature a lot of CGI, wizards, or robots, the trailers for “Drive”, “Contagion”, and “Haywire” are making us pretty confident that we’re going to be spending the off-season movie months watching some really excellent films.

All that being said, here’s our critical take on this most recent crop of new movie trailers.

Movie: “Drive”

Best Parts of the Trailer: The bits between the 0:01 mark and the 2:33 mark

Worst Parts of the Trailer: … we’ve got nothing. It kinda rules.

Our Take: Wow. Just wow. THIS is the perfect example of how gorgeously effective a movie trailer can really be. If you just heard a log line for “Drive” - “A Hollywood stunt driver (Ryan Gosling), who moonlights as a wheelman during robberies, discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong” – you might not be that impressed. Sounds a bit like “Fast Five” or “Gone in 60 Seconds”, the Hollywood angle sounds cheesy, could be a low-rent heist thing… eh, nothing that spectacular. But then you see the trailer put together for “Drive” and… wow, how can you NOT want to see this movie now?

And it’s not because the trailer is gimmicky or clever. It just tells the story of the movie BRILLIANTLY. In a short 2 minutes and 33 seconds, it gets across all of the basic information it needs to, but it also delivers a metric ton of DEPTH – depth of vision, depth of character, depth of coolness. This is a trailer that excels at presenting its audience with complexity. After 2 ½ minutes, we know that Gosling’s lead character is a morally complex, highly driven man (no pun intended), and we get him. He’s no cipher or lame action lead cliché.

We are presented with the complex geometry of the relationships between the characters, and we instantly understand them. Gosling is a driver for heists, he falls for Carey Mulligan and her young son, but then her ex-con husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) comes back into the picture, and unless Gosling helps him pull off a job, the mob is going to hurt Standard’s family… the family that Gosling now loves. It’s amazing drama, and it adds layers of depth that make Gosling’s character seem more like the ancestor of Humphrey Bogart or Steve McQueen than Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. And Refn is able to set up those relationships in the trailer in brief, meaningful moments without spoiling the whole damn movie. The trailer, in and of itself, is a hell of a great short movie.

But la-de-dah complexity aside, “Drive” just looks fairly bad-ass, doesn’t it? The car chases look killer and, when Bryan Cranston, speaking about Gosling, says, “You put this kid behind the wheel and there’s nothing he can’t do,” we believe him. The trailer does a fantastic job of mythologizing Gosling as the ultimate Driver and then showing how his empty, orderly life breaks down after he starts giving a damn about something. (It’s like “The Transporter”, but way cooler and with way less weird French humor.) There’s a moment at the 1:39 mark where you can witness Gosling’s character make a change, decide to act, decide to defend the people he cares about, and it’s breathtaking. The music switches from standard heist music into something far more symphonic, and it has the quiet beauty of that moment in “True Romance” (with a similar music cue) when Dennis Hopper decides to ask Christopher Walken for a cigarette, and you just know that he’s resigned to his fate and isn’t going to take the easy way out. That’s a hard moment for any movie to reference without seeming like a pale imitation, and Refn pulls it off in his freakin’ trailer, which is amazing.

Plus, you get stuff like Albert Brooks, in what might be our favorite casting of the year, as a slimy mob heavy. The exchange where Gosling is introduced to him is already destined for its place in movie quote heaven – Gosling (not wanting to shake hands after driving): “My hands are a little dirty. Brooks (dead serious): “So are mine.” And we haven’t even gotten to the stuff with the hammer… the bullet and the hammer scene is our new favorite “mundane item turns horrific” moment since The Joker made the pencil disappear in “Dark Knight”.

Are we gushing a bit? Yes, and we’re probably setting the bar way, way too high for Refn’s little heist drama. But, while there have been lots of movies that we’ve liked in 2011 so far, there have barely been any that we’ve LOVED, and the trailer for “Drive”, at least, displays the potential for greatness, the potential of a movie that we could really love, that we haven’t seen in a long while.

TRAILER OUTLOOK: Almost terminally awesome. Has there been a cooler movie trailer in 2011? If so, we haven’t seen it. Heck, is there a cooler-looking movie scheduled for release in 2011? Unless Tarantino or the Coens sneak something out before year’s-end, “Drive” might be the coolest ticket out there for the rest of the year.

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