Cineworld Glasgow, 23.09.11
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive follows two well-worn film paths – that of the violent crime thriller, and secondly the thrill of fast cars and driving action – and manages to combine the two to make a fresh, exciting and distinct film.
Ryan Gosling stars as the unnamed Driver, who works part-time driving stunt cars for movies, as a mechanic for his friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston), and moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals. He’s set up as the typical Man with No Name, and Man with No Past. All we learn from Shannon is that he walked in to his garage six years ago and can drive cars better than anyone. Gosling’s performance typifies this unknown quality. The script offers the Driver little dialogue (at Gosling’s request, much of the dialogue was taken out of the original script), so Gosling relies a lot on his face and body to convey thoughts and feelings, and by maintaining a frightening stillness throughout, he hints at the simmering ability to resort to violence that erupts halfway through the film. As the film’s nominal ‘good guy’, Gosling is both scary and compassionate. In fact the first half of the film, aside from an opening police chase and punctuations of speed, is a very still, quiet drama. Not only does the Driver not talk much, but he doesn’t talk much to very few people. He has no attachments and in fact seems almost socially retarded, unable to communicate with other people in normal ways. In his new neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos), he finds someone with whom he can relate to without having to resort to typical human conversation. Of course, the absence of much dialogue draws attention and givers added significance to the dialogue that does remain, and much of it is smartly written and expertly delivered.
Having fallen for Irene, he agrees to help her ex-con husband do one last robbery. When things go badly wrong, the Driver is left to try to protect Irene and Benicio, himself, and escape the gangsters whose money he has escaped with. From this point on the film doesn’t so much increase its pace, but rather more frequently punctuates the stillness with more and more excessive outbursts of violence and speed action. The violence is extreme, and is sure to make any audience wince, and the film so stylishly shot, that it could be argued that it borders on becoming gratuitous. What prevents this is that the violence has justification, and represents the world in which the Driver inhabits, and the danger that he and Irene are in. It is also very definitely used as punctuation points to highlight and rack up the tension as the film drives towards its conclusion. All the violence is clearly motivated, and I would argue, unlike the scenes of mass carnage seen in 12A or 15 certificate films where countless of faceless people die with no consequences, clearly justified. And while a couple of scenes of violence border on cartoonish and will undoubtedly lead to some uncomfortable chuckles from the audience, they are less flippant and stylised than the likes of Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez. Some scenes, like the confrontation between Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Shannon, manage at the same time to be horrific, violent, touching and muted.
Refn’s film is beautifully shot. The city is the neon lit backdrop for the action and the crisp sharp photography of Newton Thomas Sigel looks stunning. Suitably for a film called Drive, there are loving shots of cars and plenty of well-executed driving action. The cast are uniformly excellent, Gosling a revelation at the films centre, but ably supported by Brooks, Cranston and Ron Perlman, whom it is nice to see being allowed to act without being covered in layers of cosmetics and prosthetics. If anyone suffers its Carey Mulligan as Irene, who has to settle for the role of timid love interest in need of saving, but does well to convey Irene’s sense of having becoming trapped in a world she can’t control, struggling against the overwhelming tide of masculinity and violence that she wants to protect her son from.
Although no time in history is given for the film (one assumes it is set in the present), there is a conscious 80’s styling to the photography and the opening credits, while the cars range from the modern to the classics of the 1970’s. The 1980’s feeling is enhanced by the score from Cliff Martinez and the female-voiced guitar rock that punctuates the film. The mixed styles and times are added to in details like costume, with the Driver wearing an ’80’s era shiny silver jacket, emblazoned with a scorpion, and leather driving gloves, which become a sign that mentally he is in ‘driver’ mode. Outside of these clothes he is calm, still and compassionate. The outfit become like his superhero uniform that he dresses in to give him his underworld identity.
Add to all this Refn’s European (Danish) background and Drive feels more like a well-funded, stylish European thriller that just happens to involve Americans and be set in Los Angeles. The mish-mash of styles helps to make Drive feel like something new and different, and genuinely exciting. If anything lets the film, down it’s the inevitability of the plot. Strip away the stylings, the stillness and the violence, and it’s a fairly typical crime thriller, but there is no harm in taking popular genre conventions and executing a well made film using these, and that is exactly what Drive does, and in doing so, arguably exceeds the boundaries of a typical crime thriller. Destined to become a cult classic.
Film Rating: 4.5 out of 5.