High-octane car heist themed films haven’t lost their luster, they’ve always had excellent pulse pounding stylized car pursuits, but at the same time they have been quite predictable. Fortunately, Nicolas Winding Refn’s reformulates all of that with Drive, a fiercely intense drama that will put any audience member on the edge of their seat. Don’t let the pink title art fool you, Ryan Gosling can do more than shift a couple of gears and take a couple of punches. With a limited use of words and complex poise, Gosling delivers a commanding performance and when backed by a wonderful supporting cast and excellent storytelling, Drive will not be the last time you will be hearing of Refn’s name.
In Refn’s American directorial film debut, Gosling stars as Driver (yes that is his name in the film), a Hollywood stuntman by day and who moonlights as a wheelman, who discovers that a hit has been put out on him when one of the jobs he was hired for goes terribly wrong.
There is something quite magical about Drive, and it’s not that it involves getaway driving. The title itself acts more like a metaphor. Drive takes the car heist genre to places the Fast and Furious franchises dare not turn to. The film is about the Driver and the characters around him. Refn was able to transform the car heist film into a deep and dark look at the genre with limited use of dialogue. This may seem like a detraction, but its effective use of sounds enhances the experience. From the simple banging of shopping carts to the roaring engines of a stock car, the sound editing of Drive is nothing short of sheer brilliance.
Gosling plays a distant and somewhat cold person who is defined by his job and is very good at it. In fact he is so good that he sets the rules and the people that hire him abide by them. Ironically his world comes to a screeching halt when Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son enter his life. The two are inches toward consummating something that remotely resembles a relationship, but nothing comes from the two kindred souls.
In true Clint Eastwood-esque fashion, Gosling follows his own sets of rules not only while driving on the streets, but walking amongst the public. Driver doesn’t wait until for the authorities to settle disputes, he does it himself in a bloody and sometimes grotesque fashion. And that is just fine by me. The look of vigilante justice starts to flow through his veins and seep into his deep and loving eyes. You know what he is doing is wrong, but every time he kills you can’t help but develop an understanding of his violence. Whether the Driver is blasting gunmen with a shotgun or stomping down on a hitman and pulverizing his skull into dust, you can’t help but cheer him on.
While Mulligan, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Issac, and Bryan Cranston play their respective parts well, but its Ron Perlman, and Albert Brooks who are devilishly charming. The two control the crime in the city of Los Angeles. Bernie is a sinister father figure who is not afraid to get his hands dirty, while Perlman is the muscle bound patsy. Perlman doesn’t waste any time with the limited screen time he gets in Drive. He proves that he knows how to get money, but would rather do it the old fashioned way. Brooks, who seems to have reinvented his career, is a different story. He may be a model traditional crime lord, but he embraces new business ventures. Should anything threatens him or his business, he will cut his losses and kill anyone he thinks is a loose end.
Although Gosling’s character is the main focus of the film, his limited dialogue can make him appear too withdrawn. At times his silence is very effective, especially during evening scenes, where dim lighting and the nigh sky drape him and is able to translate who he is without saying too much. But during the more sentimental moments with Mulligan’s character, his silence seems like needless fluff. Although Refn’s bone crunching gore fest scenes are enough to cleanse that mistake.
Drive is modern noir with enough car pursuits and bloodthirsty action to appease any movie fan. As soon as the engines starts, Drive takes us into a world that we normally would never see or hear. If you close your eyes throughout the entire film, you’ll just imagine yourself in the passenger seat holding on to whatever you can in hopes that you will make it out alive. The thing that makes Drive so compelling is that its limited dialogue is able to convey the complexity of the characters through sights and sounds. Dark tones, wonderful performances from the entire cast, and action that is fueled by an ecliptic mix of electronica and rock that is reminiscent of the 1980s makes Drive bold, daring, and unpredictable and something you can watch over and over again.