Drive is a crime drama directed by Danish film director, screenwriter and producer, Nicolas Winding Refn, adapted from the novel by James Sallis. The movie won the best director award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
We meet the Driver (played by Ryan Gosling) as he goes about his everyday life as a mechanic and movie stunt driver managed by his boss Shannon (played by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston). We soon see him at his moonlighting job however, where he provides a service to criminals as a getaway driver, promising them that he will do anything for them in the time limit of 5 minutes. Things get complicated when he becomes involved with his beautiful neighbour Irene (played by Never Let ME Go’s Carey Mulligan) whose husband has just come back from prison. Owing protection money he asks the Driver for his help, lest his family receives the wrath of the mob, where wackiness ensues!
Drive actually begins at a smacking pace. We are introduced to the main character’s lifestyle which is palpable with texture and atmosphere. He lives a comfortable day-to-day life working with cars as a mechanic, stunt driver, possible racing driver and get-away driver. The first time we actually see him in action is fantastic: we are in the passenger seat, experiencing the tension of the burglar-passengers in the backseat. We also feel firsthand the Driver’s anticipation of the surrounding police force. There is no CGI present at all in such a scene, nor are there any ridiculous stunts: its pure street racing, filmed in an uncomfortably intimate setting.
The tone of the movie is quite interesting: the music, fashion and title font and colour scream retro 80’s for no real reason. One could be forgiven thinking that the movie is set in that time-frame if not for a character referencing his past ‘in the 80’s. There are even subtle surreal moments typical of 80’s films at the time: slo-mo in accordance to synthesizer music, dimming of lights to enhance the attraction of two characters while eliminating the background. This is all done to have the audience view the film from the Driver’s point of view: how he views the streets in LA as noir, and how he is a knight in shining armour, relying on his nature to help others, symbolized as a scorpion on his shiny white jacket.
The movie unexpectedly turns ultra-violent however, betraying the sleek, unattached and unaffected set-up. Where the Driver gets more involved with those around him, conflict arises and he becomes a Terminator, doing everything he can, his way, to resolve the conflict. Such is the tonal shift that a viewer has famously sued her theatre for misleading her into believing that Drive would be more akin to the The Fast and the Furious film series
Wheras the Driver is simply a man-with-no-name, existentially coasting along until love-led circumstances call him into action, the antagonist mobsters led by Bernie (played by Albert Brooks) and Nino (played by Hell-Boy’s Ron Perlman) exhibit well-rounded characters: mobsters who do not enjoy killing, but find it their only means-to-an end. There are background linking them all with real emotion and feelings as opposed to the Driver, a man with very little words and a mysterious past.
The two leads, Carey Mulligan and Ryan Gosling do share a very sweet and tender chemistry, with restraint and heavy subtext showing, not telling us, their every thought and feelings. It is great seeing Christina Hendricks in a feature, although she is heart-breakingly underused.
Drive is a relatively small budget movie with a lot of research behind it that actually serves up a solid movie that we actually have seen many of times in the late 70’s and early 80’s: a hard-boild neo-noir pulp-fiction, complete with a synth soundtrack. The plus is, like Robert Rodriguez’s, and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse, such movies where never made with such focus and expertise that hindsight can afford.
4 kilometres out of 5
Luke McWilliams, December 2011