2011 was Ryan Gosling’s year, and Drive was his crowning achievement. Or so the polls would have us believe. Nicholas Winding Refn’s movie, about a nameless driver who gets mixed up a dodgy robbery, topped virtually every end-of-year best-movie list, and was garlanded with the kind of plaudits that can keep a movie in cult status for years.
Without doubt, Drive is a great film, with a strong script and excellent performances, that deserves plenty of praise. But as good as it is, it’s not quite the superlative masterpiece that is being talked about.
Ryan Gosling plays The Driver, a quiet, reserved loner who works as a stuntman by day and a getaway driver by night. After he meets, and falls for, his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan), he becomes inextricably involved with her family: hanging out with her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos) and helping to pull off a robbery for her ex-jailbird husband Standard (Oscar Isaac).
Despite the twisty, complex plot, Drive is not really much about story. It’s an engaging tale, sure – but that’s by the by. No, this film is, more than anything else, about style. From The Driver’s now-famed metallic-sheen scorpion jacket to the relentless presence of late-night flickering neon lights, everything has been given a slick combination of LA gritty and 80s-infused day-glo. As a result the film is obsessed with, and convinced by, its own total coolness. It wants to be the coolest movie at the cinema. Its viewers want to be the coolest people at the cinema. After a while, however, the film’s whole veneer of achingly hip nonchalance becomes a little tiresome.
It doesn’t help matters that the violence in this film renders some moments virtually unwatchable. Much of it is needless, and all of it is comic-book lurid. We don’t just see a woman getting shot; we see her entire head explode in a shower of blood. And there’s an already-infamous lift scene which demonstrates pretty succinctly the meaning of “overkill”.
Gosling is compelling and charismatic in the lead role, but it’s not markedly better than some of his other recent performances. Carey Mulligan, too, is effortlessly convincing as the down-on-her-luck young mother – but, again, it’s not a standout role for her. A strong supporting cast, including Christina Hendricks and Albert Brooks, give the film much of its bite, even if none of them are very likeable.
The widespread over-enthusiasm that met Drive on release should not be entirely disregarded. It’s a fun, engaging and good-looking piece with a killer soundtrack and some great plot twists. But as the superlative and ground-breaking piece of cinema that it’s being touted as – for many viewers, it is probably not quite up to scratch.
DVD extras include a stills gallery and a couple of trailers. The main feature, though, is a diverting 40-minute Q&A with director Nicholas Winding Refn, which offers some decent anecdotes about filming and production (including the revelation that he originally intended to cast a porn star in Christina Hendrick’s role). He’s a witty interviewee with plenty of interesting things to say, although the super-cool deadpan manner soon gets a little tedious.
Drive is released on DVD and blu-ray 30 January 2012.
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks
Runtime: 100 minutes