Every once and awhile a film like Drive comes around. It pays tribute to films of the past while still proving itself as its own entry into the genre. It’s a fine line to walk and most films fall on one side or the other, but Drive stays right in the middle. Its precision that works for Drive and director Nicolas Winding Refn is going to be making a name for himself, at least amongst general audiences with this one. From the opening credits, Drive is just oozing with style and class. Ryan Gosling gives what is probably going to be considered his best performance to date and Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston insert their own qualities to help round the impressive supporting cast. Yes, I am also talking about the hit or miss Ron Perlman, who doesn’t steal the show, but still gives off some sign of life in a career that’s otherwise full of laughable roles. Drive is easily one of the best films of the year and depending on how the rest of the year stacks up it could very well be my favorite.
Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a Hollywood stuntman who gets paid to crash cars. He’s soft spoken, but very intimidating. When he’s off the set he spends most of his time working at an auto body shop owned by Shannon (Bryan Cranston) and in between both of those occupations he does the occasional getaway job. He has a specific set of rules that he never breaks. He’s the driver, you get 5 minutes and once that’s up you’re on your own. He doesn’t carry a gun or talk about the job, he just drives. Driving puts him in a state of calm and gives him a brief moment of enjoyment.
His neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) is your everyday mother working at a diner trying to support her child, while her husband is set to be released from prison. Driver almost instantly takes a liking to her because she gives him a sense of purpose in life. He cares for her and her son right off the bat and the importance of this relationship is very high. When Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), gets out of prison, Driver sort of steps back, but still feels like a member of the family. He’s not worried about himself, but more for the safety and wellbeing of Irene and her son.
Standard owes some people money from prison and Driver offers to help him in the only way that he knows how, by driving. This is where the rest of the film starts to unfold as an easy pawnshop heist goes completely wrong; resulting in a downward spiral of twists and turns.
From the beautifully shot opening credits to the final climax, Drive immediately establishes itself as something very different. I’m very surprised with the wide release treatment it is getting. I’m happy for the film, but I think a lot of people are going to be turned away from it because of its different traits and characteristics. Drive is not your normal, mainstream heist film, but I think there’s a lot for casual moviegoers to still enjoy and appreciate. It’s a slower film, but it never feels like it’s stuck in the mud or taking its sweet time. Nicolas Winding Refn carefully crafts the atmosphere and tone of Drive with long, brooding shots of comfortable silence. The city shots light up in the dark sky, with the calm and quiet score by Cliff Martinez slowing building up to something big.
The action almost comes out of nowhere in a very violent and bloody fashion. People are stomped to death, sliced into pieces and turned into fountains of blood on several occasions. It never feels overly excessive or pointless. The driving sequences are filmed perfectly, with the camera at just the right distance. For a Hollywood movie based on a Hollywood stuntman, Drive doesn’t really feature any of your normal big Hollywood chase scenes. Most of the driving in the film feels like something that could easily be achieved by a professional. Nothing gets too silly or unbelievable; everything is instead firmly planted into the ground of reality.
Ryan Gosling impresses as our cold and calculated leading man. He doesn’t say much, but that’s because he doesn’t need to. He communicates in a soft manner using lots of eye movements and body gestures. When he does speak, it comes across firmly and with a purpose. The whole mysterious, but dangerous feel that Gosling gives off is bone chilling.
As for the rest of the cast, Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston provide some of the better supporting roles in recent history. Refn gives them enough detail to make you interested in their pasts and to make you care for their futures, but they never come front and center with Driver. There subtle performances added just the right amount of care for the viewer to understand why Driver associates with them.
Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks play the two mob bosses who get caught in the tangled heist situation and they provide just enough scum in their performances to get across the serious level of shit that Driver has gotten himself into.
What makes Drive so damn special is its ability to pay homage to classic films that have come before it while still adding stuff that we’ve never really seen in this kind of film before. There isn’t really one good guy or one bad guy in this situation because everyone comes from bad pasts. Some characters are worse than others, but not one person can be pegged as completely innocent. Refn uses his skills behind the lens to slowly show us these living, breathing characters. His gifted camerawork also helps give the film a different visual presentation. Things like the opening credit font, slow-mo hallway shots, impressive and comprehensible car chase scenes and the relaxed electro synth-pop musical score all help differentiate Drive from the rest of the bunch.
Drive is the slickest and coolest film of the year. It’s brutal, stylistic and very impressive. Nicolas Winding Refn has stepped up his game with Drive, managing to make the perfect heist drama with real characters. Not one second is wasted on something that doesn’t better establish the tone of the film or the exact emotions trying to be displayed. The visuals of the nightlife in California are both calm and frightening and the music helps convey those feelings very well. Ryan Gosling has graduated from pretty boy actor to a man that can take on some seriously challenging roles. Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston prove again how strong they are as performers by providing some really good work in small, but very important roles.
Drive is one of the most impressive films of the year and I’m very curious to see how the general audience reacts to it after it opened on such a wide scale. I think there’s enough stuff for everyone to enjoy, but some might dislike the general structure and tone of the film.
As it stands right now Drive is one of my favorite films of the year without a doubt. The Oscar season hasn’t really even begun yet and I’ve already found a film that didn’t have one single problem. If this is an early indication of the quality of films for this fall then I’m very ecstatic.
Drive – 10/10