Drive (2011)

Director:  Nicholas Winding Refn
Cast:  Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Issac, Ron Perlman
Plot:  A Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong.

Genre:  Crime / Drama / Thriller
Awards:  Won Best Director and Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Sound Editing.
Runtime:  100min
Rating:  M18 for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity.

Drive won Best Director at Cannes for a reason.  And it is not the reason that would send legions of fans of car action to the theaters.  Wrongly marketed as a Fast and Furious type movie, Drive is more than just an action spectacle.  In fact, it would be inaccurate to label it as such because the film focuses on action not as spectacle but as human reaction to circumstance. 

Directed by Danish filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn, who made Bronson (2008), a flawed but fascinating film starring Tom Hardy in a tour de force performance, Drive sees Ryan Gosling in a similarly anchoring lead performance.

Gosling plays the man with no name.  He is simply known as Driver in the film.  He is a mechanic but he drives – as a stunt performer, as a race car driver, and occasionally drives the getaway car in heists.  In short, he is a brilliant driver.  

Driver meets Irene (Carey Mulligan), the beautiful girl-next-door neighbor who takes care of her small child.  One day, Irene’s husband comes back from prison, but is forced to take part in a heist to clear his mounting debts.  The situation escalates into something deadly when the heist goes wrong, which sees Driver taking matters into his own hands.

Drive is a homage to numerous films, including car action classics like Bullitt (1968) and dark character studies such as Taxi Driver (1976).  In fact, I see Refn’s film as a contemporary update on Scorsese’s masterpiece.  Both films involve a reticent hero trying to see meaning in his existence, and acts violently to protect the vulnerable women who come into his life. 

While Taxi Driver adopts a moody but gritty style, Drive is more stylish and features a pulsating soundtrack that works wonders on the film’s stunningly-lit, and composed visuals.  Refn’s film is also as much a brilliant exercise on camera and lighting as it is on suspenseful direction.

At any one time, we never know what is going to happen to anyone in the film, including Gosling’s character.  Such unpredictability is rare in filmmaking and is certainly what drives the film when the pacing becomes deliberately slow at some moments.  

The violence in Drive is explicit and gory, but Refn cuts the scene at the right time for maximum impact.  He knows violence is more painful to watch when it lingers in the mind than it being shown outright.  In one brutal scene, a man is kicked and has his face and jaw crushed by someone’s boot. We don’t see the violence, but we clearly hear its impact, and that is enough to make us cringe uncontrollably.

Drive will greatly disappoint fans looking for an entertaining ride.  The trailer is misleading, but this is a picture that had officially competed at Cannes, so it is no surprise to me that it turns out in an unexpectedly satisfying way.  

While the entire film is solid, the best part of Drive is its 10-min prologue sequence, which if isolated from its main body, could have been one of the most incredible shorts of all time.  Clearly not for the faint-hearted, Drive is an excellent and unconventional arthouse action film that is both uniquely presented by Refn and intensely acted by Gosling.


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