Drive is an action thriller from acclaimed director Nicolas Winding Refn that blends the vibe of some 80s Michael Mann movie with the brutality of a Jim Thompson novel and then squeezes the mixture into a muscle car and begins accelerating ahead of the pack.
Ryan Gosling (who may as well change his name to “the leading actor of his generation” after the critical praise he has received of late) stars as a stunt driver who gets extra thrills at night by offering his skills as a getaway driver. He’s a very quiet man, most at ease when behind the wheel and in control of his moving environment. Things change for Driver, however, when he develops a growing friendship with his pretty young neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and makes a conscious decision to help out in a way that leads to some disastrous consequences when we get to a classic “heist gone wrong” situation. Can Driver fix everything, including the contract on his life, or will it all prove too much for him if things have to happen outside of a car?
Based on a book by Jim Sallis, Drive benefits from an impressive cast and the amazing visual style of the director. The screenplay, by Hossein Amini, is fine but this is a movie in which just as much is related to audiences and characters by what is NOT said as by what is. Gosling’s character barely speaks at all during the first half hour of the movie and his increased interactions are shown as a direct result of his sweet friendship with Mulligan. Meanwhile, Refn has opened the movie with a sleek, moody opening sequence that then provides credits in a style reminiscent of neon pink lipstick written on a car window. This is the director’s movie every step of the way but he has a great cast that he treats superbly.
Gosling and Mulligan are, as you would expect, fantastic. Their relationship is sketched out and developed in a believable and sweet manner and this proves to be of great importance as it infuses every decision made in the latter half of the movie. Bryan Cranston excels as the mechanic who both looks after Driver and also sees him as a chance to get a lucky break at last. Albert Brooks plays against type as a violent gangster but he also proves to be perfect in a role that calls for a little bit of likeability even as it develops into being one of the central “baddies” of the piece. It helps that he is able to hold his own in scenes with Ron Perlman, who can play a violent gangster in his sleep. Oscar Isaac is excellent as Standard and Christina Hendricks does well as Blanche, an archetypal female from the classic noir mould.
The driving scenes are well done, old-fashioned in the way that the camera often just lines the audience up in or close to the driving seat, but this is no Fast & Furious movie. This is part character study, part homage to the action flicks of old (including, of course, The Driver) and part stylish, surrealist nightmare. There is violence onscreen here that will make even the hardiest viewer flinch but it’s given a dream-like, shimmering quality. This is to the standard car chase flick as Blue Velvet is to the standard detective movie, best exemplified in the sequence showing Gosling wearing a stunt mask while driving and looking at his own reflection in the mirror.
Drive isn’t perfect, I came away from the movie wondering just who it would be marketed at and wasn’t sure of my own feelings after the end credits had rolled, but the more I think about it the more I realise how truly great it is.
Drive is released in UK cinemas on 23rd September.
DIRECTOR: NICOLAS WINDING REFN
STARS: RYAN GOSLING, CAREY MULLIGAN, BRYAN CRANSTON, OSCAR ISAACS, ALBERT BROOKS, RON PERLMAN, CHRISTINA HENDRICKS
RUNTIME: 100 MINS APPROX