Drive is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and adapted to screenplay by Hossein Amini from the novel of the same name written by James Sallis. It stars Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman. Music is by Cliff Martinez and cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel.
Driver (Gosling) has a day job, he's a Hollywood stunt man, but by night he makes the serious cash as a getaway driver for the criminal fraternity. Into his life comes married next door neighbour Irene (Mulligan) and her little boy Benicio (Kaden Leos), pitching him right into the middle of two wars; one is for his emotional worth, the other with the criminal underworld.
Real human being, and a real hero.
They cheered at Cannes, it has garnered instant cult classic status as well as gushing critical praise, Drive is arguably the biggest surprise of 2011. Some would debate that it arrived in a year that was dominated by blockbuster brain drains and pretentious parables, meaning it wouldn't take much for something like Drive to find a favourable audience. Yet Drive is a special movie, the surprise being that it delivers a different film to what the plot synopsis suggests. There would have been many disappointed that it didn't turn out to be something akin to The Fast & The Furious 19, but as its reputation grows, one likes to think that many also had their senses tingled unexpectedly by Refn's western done out in 1980s neo noir attire.
Yes, at first glance it looks like a simple story given over to style over substance leanings, where the fact that our laconic protagonist is not prone to dialogue expansion, could lend argumentative weight to those potential dissenters only skimming the surface of the picture. But the material is in excellent hands, with Refn, Sigel, Gosling and co, calmly unravelling Amini's stripped down screenplay to reveal a gritty urban fable that's laced with ethereal overtones. A picture where a look means more than any words can express, a subtle holding of hands reveals many layers peeling, and then the serene state of play often gets punctured by bouts of shocking violence, yet always it remains a picture big on intelligence, beating a mighty heart in the process.
Propelling the picture forward is the complexity of Gosling's driver character. He has no back story for us to work from, and he gives nothing away outside of the tender bond formed with Irene and child. He is actually one of many purposeful grey areas (or should that be gris areas?) within the plot structure. We learn just enough to be on his side, a noble but flawed hero battling against fate as he fights for the innocent, he be Shane for a modern pot boiling Los Angeles. Helps, too, that he's so cool behind the wheel, where he mines Steve McQueen's effortless charisma. Refn delivers magic moments of car play, from the near ten minute opening getaway extended sequence, to a high speed kill or be killed pursuit, when the action flows it really pumps the adrenalin.
Gosling is amazing, instantly iconic, soft voice matching his soft blue eyes, toothpick perched between teeth, it's a testament to his acting ability that the requisite homages to iconic characters of movies past never veers into parody territory. It's with the calm moments that he triumphs most, be it watching TV with the boy Benicio or just gazing intensely into Irene's eyes, Gosling has a magnetic quality of some significance. Mulligan, too, is wonderful, deftly underplaying Irene to work off of Gosling to create heart aching tenderness, their chemistry superb. Isaac does fine work with the ex-con/husband character that is thankfully not stereotypical, Brooks is Colm Meaney like, thriving on simmering badness, while Cranston puts real heart into the role of Driver's garage boss, the closest thing the Driver has to a pal. The only one dimensional character lands in Perlman's court, but Perlman is such an ebullient and watchable life force the film survives the character's oafness.
From the opening pink neon credits, accompanied by the synth plink of a retro 80s soundtrack (a soundtrack so memorable it lands in the ears and stays there for days), it's evident that Refn is a man who takes his style serious. Drive is full of classy (yes arty) passages, fluid camera movements, single takes, non central framing of characters, slow motion unfurls and eye dazzling chopper shots of a neon lighted L.A., the director has an eye for the quality required to cloak his story. He of course is aided considerably by his editor Matthew Newman, and Sigel's photography. The former is dealing in seamless precision, the latter a master of shades (a lift sequence is to, ahem, die for) and colour toning delights. Marking this out as a Blu-ray essential.
You can name about ten films that Drive has been either likened too or put forward as an influence, and Refn's work here has been touted as an offspring created by Michael Mann, Walter Hill, William Friedkin and Sergio Leone (all viable and all actually high praise indeed). But rest assured, Drive is still fresh and exciting, the perfect movie package. Refn's masterpiece and one of the best films of 2011. 10/10