Remember the opening of the first Transporter movie, in which a well-suited Jason Statham drives a car, picks up some bank robbers, a car chase occurs that finishes with his car landing on the top of a car holder? I didn’t, because I am still mesmerised by the opening car chase of Drive, which is infinitely better than any Statham movie out there. If you’ve seen one of the many posters of Ryan Gosling looking like Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, along with the pink-coloured title, there is more to this actor than just being a heartthrob.
Gosling plays the unnamed Driver, who at daytime is a Hollywood stuntman, but at night he is a courier for criminals. When he finds comfort towards his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son, his life is turned upside down, with the return of her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac). When the Driver helps Standard with a heist it goes wrong and the Driver’s life, as well as his newly-found friends lifes, are in jeopardy.
While the plot may not be as complex as last week’s release of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, in the hands of Pusher director Nicolas winding Refn, we see what could be (as the posters say) “the year’s coolest movie”. Based on the book by James Sallis, Drive was originally going to be directed by Neil Marshall, who would’ve made it more as an exploitation flick. There is no doubt that the film has an exploitation edge due to its stripped-down structure and simple plot, but the Danish director brings his arthouse sensibility to this violent tale.
Now, of course, the film does reference crime films from the 70s and 80s, such as Bullitt being a key influence. However, the closest comparison would be William Friedkin’s terrific To Live and Die in LA, as there are action sequences that are both stylish and violent, car chases set within Los Angeles which is like a driver’s playground. There is even a soundtrack which although is modernly composed, sounds slightly Wang Chung.
However, this is its own piece, thanks to Refn’s transcending direction. What we see here is one of the best depicted visions of Los Angeles to challenge the works of Michael Mann such as Heat and Collateral. At night, the city is a dark brooding place with neon lights, but with the music of Cliff Martinez being played, there’s something quite angelic about the driving sequences.
As the anonymous protagonist who doesn’t talk much, Ryan Gosling gives a tour-de-force performance. With his expressionless face, he expresses various sides to his role as you can feel sympathy towards his friendship with Irene, but then you become scared at his night job where he expresses his violent side. Gosling’s chemistry with Carey Mulligan is not one based on dialogue, but more on eye contact as they clearly love each other, but can’t express it due to the commitments of their own lives.
Surrounding the two central players is an astonishing supporting cast including Ron Hellboy Perlman who despite being at his most sinister in years, his character is looked upon as a weakling and tries to amp his professionalism which puts every one’s life in danger. Having played the loveable buffoon so many times, that’s not how we see Albert Brooks here. You don’t want to be in his presence because in one violent sequence, he stabs someone in the eye with a plastic fork. One quick mention, the always terrific Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad truly shine.
From the first and last image, Drive is a masterpiece which may seem like an exploitation actioner with A-List credentials, however it is something extraordinarily artistic, thanks to the masterful direction of Mr Refn.
DIRECTOR: NICOLAS WINDING REFN
SCREENWRITER: HOSSEIN AMINI
STARRING: RYAN GOSLING, CAREY MULLIGAN, BRYAN CRANSTON, CHRISTINA HENDRICKS, RON PERLMAN, ALBERT BROOKS
COUNTRY: UNITED STATES
RUNTIME: 100 MINS