Review: Drive (2011)



Nicolas Winding Refn
Hossein Amini (Book: James Sallis)
100 min.
Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Kaden Leos
MPAA Rating
R for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity.

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Can someone who has never known else but loneliness allow love to affect his decisions when he’s always succeeded just fine on his own? Ryan Gosling’s stark turn in Drive gives us new depth and understanding of the classic drifter archetype.

Gosling’s nameless Driver works as a stunt car driver for the movies, but that’s not how he earns the bulk of his money. In the dark of the night, when criminals need a professional, they call him to play the role of wheelman. Timed to precision, the driver leaves very little room for error or mishap, preferring to run operations under his own terms instead of risking his own safety at the hands of others.

The film opens as we accompany Driver on his latest run. Picking up two masked criminals who have plotted and carried out a robbery at a small warehouse, he carries them away with calm self-assuredness, deftly out-maneuvering the silent alarm-triggered police cruisers and helecopter as he flawlessly escapes their grasp, walking away with his coat over his shoulder and confidence in his step.

I was first introduced to director Nicolas Winding Refn with his ultra-violent Pusher trilogy, a well crafted series of films exploring the utter remorselessness of the drug industry in his native Denmark. For all of the old hat concepts at play in those films, Refn brought a freshness to the material that made them seem more original than they truly were. His reliance on slow, methodical shots and tense unwinding of action carries over to Drive making it one of the more stylish films released this year.

Where Hollywood would have gone for the loud squealing of tires and the quick cuts of action-heavy narrative storytelling, Refn does the opposite, preferring quieter action scenes, sometimes backed by ‘80s electronica-style music, sometimes touched only by a handful of quiet, ambient noises. His editing allows cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel to compose complex, beautiful shots that linger on the screen longer than someone like Michael Bay would have had the patience for. His style of filmmaking fits perfectly with his laid back, contemplative central character.

The Driver, as embodied by Gosling is a careful soul, reliant more on himself than anyone else, knowing that only he has the knowledge and the skill to carry out any single scheme he has concocted. When he begins to trust others, that well oiled mechanism begins breaking down.

Carey Mulligan’s Irene is a soft-spoken, loving mother, wanting some measure of romance and simplicity that her jailed husband (Oscar Isaac) can provide. Raising her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos) alone is a daunting ask, but she manages. Her seemingly clandestine meeting with Driver propels both of their lives in directions they had never thought possible. Driver begins to fall for Irene and she for him, but her dedication is to her son and when hubby Standard is released from prison, the tension is notably higher before she lays down her feelings for a new beau and picks them up again for her husband.

Standard, as portrayed by Oscar Isaac is a flawed, but caring father. His time in prison has given him the foresight to understand that all he wants to do is care for his family; however, those who protected him the big house expect prompt repayment of their assistance. The protection money he owes belongs to thug Nino (Ron Perlman) and the local crime family’s boss Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks).

The plot is further complicated by the introduction of Bernie and his associate to the racecar prodigy Driver through Driver’s employer and friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston). Shannon not only oversees Driver’s Hollywood stunt work, he employs Driver as a mechanic at his bill-paying garage operation. Shannon wants to take a small loan from Nino to purchase a car that Driver will guide towards racing victories and the countless endorsements and monetary benefits that would go with it.

Something of a noir-esque thriller, Drive has enough style to make up for some of its more excessive moments. Anyone familiar with the Pusher films knows Refn’s appreciation of violence as a means to an end, and until the half-way point, it wouldn’t be hard to suspect he had given up on the violent elements. Yet, as with any film dealing in crime, there’s a point where violence becomes the only solution, threatening to unbalance every positive turn in Driver’s lonely life.

That Driver cannot settle down without getting someone hurt seems to indicate he is not capable of finding rest, his wickedness damning him to a life of solitude. Though the audience is never shown his past, there is little reason not to expect, through his crude actions late in the film that he has not come across similar situations in the past. He seems to know that the potential is there for his past to catch up to him, but he tries to settle down for the sake of those around him. But as we have come to expect from such decisions, they are seldom result in happy endings.
Review Written
October 17, 2011

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