Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks
Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins
Release Date: September 16, 2011
PLOT: A stunt driver (Gosling) also does a little getaway driving on the side. He gets tangled up with the mafia and just wants to make sure a woman (Mulligan) and her child are safe.
WHO’S IT FOR?: Do you really miss when action movies were truly cool, and not loaded with illogical scenarios and bad acting? Has that lacking ever made you possibly a bit emotional? Do you like extremely solid films in general? Go see Drive, immediately.
EXPECTATIONS: Drive had earned some great buzz at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, especially when director Refn won “Best Director.” A fan of Refn’s Pusher trilogy and his Tom Hardy spectacle Bronson, I was curious as to whether this movie would have the same Kubrickian calculated visual style, and if it would ultimately give us more artful brawn.
Ryan Gosling as Driver: The vulnerable thug is by no means an original character type, but Gosling plays it here like a champ. He makes the role feel fresh (and oh so cool) with his smaller mannerisms that come from a very controlled, reduced performance. His only immediate indicator of anger is a clenched fist, which is usually accompanied by a sorrowful glance in his eyes. Parts of the Driver character are robotic, like when he drives with unflinching focus. But his emotions are not – he often looks like he’s going to cry because of his actions, but not even one tear escapes his eyes. It’s almost like his personal breakdown scene is missing. As such stoicism blankets his mysterious vulnerabilities, Gosling’s performance never loses its cool.
Carey Mulligan as Irene: Mulligan provides solid support in this character who is basically at the center of Drive’s danger. She makes her character likable enough so that we can look past her little screentime and possibly underdeveloped presence. We at least feel she’s a woman worth fighting for, and that’s usually enough for this type of story to function properly.
Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose: A bit of a surprise, Brooks makes for a killer villain in the menacing shoes of Bernie. His presence carries so much intimidation, even though his interactions can be so sociable and warming. Just like Gosling’s Driver, he has unsuspecting brutal tendencies, of which Brooks’ character is less able to control. An excellent adversary to the story’s hero.
Rest of Cast: Ron Perlman crashes the Drive acting party with a tough gangster role that is a bit over-acted, especially when it sounds like he’s getting too forceful with his F-bombs. Oscar Isaac plays tragic scum pretty well, and Christina Hendricks pops in and out of the movie in the span of about ten crazy minutes. It’s as if Refn is using her to play with the expectations of the audience – he makes her look a bit frumpy, and he only features her for a few (crazy) minutes.
TALKING: Drive has some great moments of dialogue that are jarringly subtle. For example, when Driver meets his new boss Bernie, he says “My hands are dirty.” Bernie replies, “So are mine.” The script sprinkles clever tidbits like this throughout, and makes any interaction between two people disturbingly calm (like when Bernie meets Cranston’s character for the last time).
SIGHTS: The visual style of Drive is what makes this such a special movie. The long takes are exciting, and the depth-of-field shots are incredibly rich. Slow motion even has some shining moments, without feeling overwrought or cliche. Refn knows how to capture and cut a car chase, how to make every act of violence hit the audience, and how to make a beautiful movie.
SOUNDS: With only a few non-original tracks, the Drive soundtrack might be one of the coolest collections of movie music we’ll hear this year. Each track adds to a strong mood of the film, and also gives the whole movie a unique tone. The retro sounds of tunes like “A Real Hero” (by College ft. Electric Youth) and “Nightcall” (by Kavinsky & Nightfoxxx) supplement a stylish romantic element, while also stating that this movie is working with an attitude more common in the ’80s than movies coming out now.
BEST SCENE: Tough to choose, but that pawn shop car chase might be one of the most beautiful car chase sequences put to screen. Excellent use of sound, cinematography, and overall just a totally thrilling moment.
ENDING: “For the rest of your life, you’re going to be looking over your shoulder.”
QUESTIONS: Was Refn purposefully trying to make Christina Hendricks a bit frumpy? Is there any chance Refn could be the next “film school director messiah,” AKA the next Tarantino?
REWATCHABILITY: Definitely. As soon as possible. A second viewing would be to just experience Drive’s bliss again, most of all.
Nicolas Winding Refn doesn’t have a license, and claims to know nothing about cars. But he’s one hell of a mechanic with Drive, a movie created from used chop shop pieces that could have turned out ugly if it weren’t in the hands of such a visual mastermind. Even Gosling, the true driver of this movie’s spirit, is able to make a retreaded character type feel new and positively exciting.
Drive is perfect evidence that while there may be no new original concepts in Hollywood, excellent filmmaking doesn’t have to suffer. It’s slick, it’s ultra cool, and it f**cking roars from start to finish.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10