Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman
I recently re-watched ‘Drive’ for the umpteenth time, not just because I’m casually working my way through the films of Oscar Isaac, but because this is one of my favourite films of all time. This masterpiece from Nicolas Winding Refn sits pretty in my top 10 for multiple reasons – the soundtrack, the violence, the unique storyline – but most importantly, ‘Drive’ is quite simply an exceptionally cool film. The best thing about it though, is that you cannot pin this effortless cool aura on any one aspect of the film; ‘Drive’ is as brilliant as it is because all of the cinematic cogs are turning in the same direction, all working together beautifully to create a gripping and enigmatic picture.
Based on the novel of the same name by the fantastic James Sallis, ‘Drive’ centres around a mysterious man known only as The Driver, who works by day as a mechanic and stunt driver, and by night as a getaway driver for the criminals of Los Angeles. Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a man of very few words, but when he meets his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan), his stern exterior starts to slip as he warms to the pretty girl down the hall and her son. One problem though: her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is fresh out of prison and has a few debts to repay to some very cruel men. So, when the safety of Irene and her son, Benicio, is threatened, Driver gets tangled up in Standard’s latest heist, with disastrous, bloody results.
Ryan Gosling may be better known for his role in romantic tale ‘The Notebook’, but it is his performance as the brooding, indecipherable Driver which is far and away his best. I am constantly astounded by just how little dialogue he actually uses, and to be honest, his facial expressions don’t offer much either, but that is where the intrigue arises; we know so little about this man that we are forced to inspect every movement in the hopes of figuring him out. As the film progresses, this calm demeanour fades more and more, as we see Driver break sweat, lose his temper and lash out violently, all of which is just magnificent to watch. This film may be all about Ryan Gosling’s Driver, but Carey Mulligan certainly offers fantastic support as love interest Irene, with an equal balance of naïve vulnerability, hopeless desperation and a hint of a stronger, resolute woman lying beneath. Oscar Isaac’s appearance is brief but hard-hitting and exceptionally memorable, whilst Ron Perlman and Bryan Cranston are used more as narrative devices rather than characters of any real substance; that is not to say that they were disappointing, just that they aren’t the main focus of the film. Rounding up the support acts is Albert Brooks, who plays the good crook-bad crook, Bernie Rose. As the key mediator between Driver and the criminal masterminds, Brooks plays both sides of the coin perfectly, so that even we as viewers aren’t sure just how far we can trust his character.
I have discussed the talents of Nicolas Winding Refn before, in my review of ‘Bronson’, but ‘Drive’ sees a real development in his style and cinematography. There are so many different elements to praise here, but I will try not to waffle on. First of all, as we saw in ‘Bronson’, Winding Refn has no qualms about depicting graphic violence on screen, and ‘Drive’ is no different, from heads being blown off, multiple stabbings and slashings and even death by drowning; it really is no-holds-barred, bloody and quite gruesome at times, but artistic and striking nonetheless. The camera angles used by Winding Refn are wide-ranging and immensely intelligent – utilising low angle shots, aerial views, close ups and particularly effective slow-motion capture. On top of this, the statement neon lighting used is quite dazzling and atmospheric, juxtaposed superbly against a darker, muted palette in the more tense moments. Speaking of atmospheric, I would not be able to write this review without mentioning that soundtrack. The Twitter followers of JumpCut UK recently voted this soundtrack the best in movie history, and with good reason. A chilling compilation of upbeat, energetic synth-pop tracks develop an unnerving, sinister edge when placed over the top of the overtly bleak events in the film; another masterstroke of contrasts from the man behind the project.
I could talk about ‘Drive’ all day, but I think I have lavished quite enough praise in this review by now to peak your interest. If you have already watched ‘Drive’ before, then you’ll recognise and appreciate all of these wonderful features I have discussed, but if you haven’t, I sincerely hope my words compel you to check it out. The film has been a victim of rather mixed reviews in the past, but is now widely regarded as one of the most iconic, intriguing and clever films of this decade, if not this millennium, and I wholeheartedly agree.