By Dave Campbell | September 16, 2011
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers: Hossein Amini (screenplay), James Sallis (novel)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman
The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a slick Hollywood stuntman who drives cars in films by day and moonlights as a getaway driver for hire by night. When he’s not rolling cars for films, he works at his mentor Shannon’s (Bryan Cranston) garage. He wears a quilted satin jacket with a scorpion embroidered on the back, leather driving gloves and keeps a toothpick in his mouth and extras in-tow. Usually an introvert, he begins falling for his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) just as her ex-con husband/baby-daddy Standard is being released from prison. Caring for the well-being of Irene and her son, the Driver takes it upon himself to help Standard pull off one last job to pay off protection money from when he was in the pin; allowing Standard to walk away from that life for good. Unfortunately for Standard the job goes horribly awry leaving the Driver to hunt down those responsible while protecting Irene and her son.
Drive is something more cerebral than most viewers will expect to see when they settle into the theater. I was caught a little off guard myself and I’m not quite sure how the Fast and Furious/Transformers multiplex crowd will digest this film. Like Nicolas Winding Refn’s previous films Bronson and Valhalla Rising, Drive is illustrated with heavy stylized violence. The violence isn’t mindless, but rather “drives” the points of the narrative and development of its characters forward. Winding Refn’s thoughtful direction is a harmonious hybrid of Michael Mann and Quentin Tarantino that brilliantly bridges the gritty revenge thriller genre film with the dramatic sensibility of art-house cinema.
Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel’s wide angled shots open the atmosphere to really capture the vacillating textures and semblance of Los Angeles. Cliff Martinez’s score perfectly captures the noir styling of the film while dialing in some techno-clash sounds out of a European race car video game — which is so elemental to the overall tone. Ryan Gosling is a straight up bad ass in this movie, properly channeling the right mix of Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) and The Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood) while sharing great chemistry with Carey Mulligan’s Irene. The rest of the supporting cast equally accents with strong performances from Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks and Christina Hendricks.
My one main hang-up with Drive is the song choice at the end. It is absolutely absurd and takes away from what could have been. At this point the audience doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) need the theme of the film to be literally called out for them. There is plenty of symbolism and thematic elements that explain perfectly who…or what the Driver is. That tinge of disappointment aside, Drive has become my favorite film of 2011 so far. Its an exhilarating surrealistic ride that left my palms sweaty and my heart racing.
Now, where can I get me one of those rad scorpion embroidered, quilted satin jackets? I want to go drive.