Directed By: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Kaden Leos
Quite clearly director Nicolas Winding Refn worked hard to bring Drive to life in the most appropriate way possible and, in turn, we get a movie that requires a degree of personal investment. Drive isn’t the type of film that lays out its plot points and lets you follow along, rather something that gives you incredible access to the main players, compelling you to become part of the action. At times, the need to decipher the details can be frustrating, but Refn duly rewards you for your work.
Ryan Gosling stars as an unnamed stunt driver and auto mechanic. When not working for Shannon (Bryan Cranston) on movies sets or in his garage, he’s moonlighting as a getaway driver. After a hard day’s work, he heads home to his apartment, which is right down the hall from Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos). With Benicio’s father in prison, there’s a void in their lives, a void that Gosling’s character happily and humbly fills.
This synopsis must be kept light, as one of Drive’s most effective assets is its ability to keep you guessing. To give you a hint at where the action heads, Irene’s safety is threatened by a pair of notorious mobsters, Nino and Bernie Rose (Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks), and Gosling’s driver steps in to keep them from hurting her or Benicio.
Drive deals with some fairly complicated manners yet the situations are presented in an incredibly simple form. The piece opens with Gosling preparing for a heist. There’s little to the scene save for a 360-degree shot of his room and a ticking clock, and even before the action begins, Drive puts its foot down, solidifying the tone and a degree about its main character.
Hossein Amini’s writing, Gosling’s performance and Refn’s attention to detail is the perfect recipe for this style of material. First off, even beyond Amini’s ability to convey so much about the driver with so little dialogue, he’s got a fantastic sense of structure. Rather than deliver something with three very clear acts and a piece that neatly moves from one scene to the next, everything overlaps, blending the entire film together seamlessly.
Then, Refn steps in to bring Amini’s, and the source material’s author, James Sallis’, vision to life in the most aesthetic way possible. Much like the promotional material, much of Drive consists of frames worthy of freezing and hanging up on a wall. The colors are vibrant, the camera movements are appropriately restrained and the smart blocking makes for endlessly intriguing shots. Refn should also be credited for his work as an actor’s director, as he’s working with a wide range of characters that can easily teeter upon becoming too somber or too extreme, and keeps them all in context.
But, of course, much of that comes from the actors themselves and Drive is filled to the brim with stars who manage to do so much with so little. In Gosling’s case, he does wonders with a character required to convey nearly everything through facial expressions and actions. Amini and Refn introduce the driver so effectively and then Gosling takes it from there with ease, putting to use what we’ve learned about him in a way through which we’re almost able to read his mind, or at least have a decent sense of his options.
On the other hand, Mulligan’s Irene is a little underdeveloped. It’s tough to decipher how she feels about a particular predicament she finds herself in. However, her relationship with Gosling’s character is refreshingly delicate and unique. Conversely, Cranston delivers a bold performance as the driver’s boss, Shannon. He’s the man in charge, yet is so desperate to hide how fragile he really is, it makes for a wonderful dichotomy. Even with their minimal time on screen, both Isaac and Christina Hendricks, who plays Blanche, a woman tied up in Nino’s business, manage to make impressions.
As for the film’s villains, they’re as evil as they come and, oddly enough, deliver most of the piece’s humor. In fact, that’s what makes them so terrifying. There’s something you just can’t help but to like about them and then they turn around and take out an opponent in the most ruthless way possible. Speaking of which, Drive, is surprisingly gory. Sure, there’s a major shock value to it, but the boldness of the blood spillage lends itself to the style of the film. Drive functions on cruise control and then, when you least expect it, knocks you off your feet.
Drive is an example of all-around good filmmaking and something that defies the typical Hollywood fair in some of the best ways possible. The cinematography is nobly unique and visually stimulating, the script doesn’t just hand over the answers, rather forces you to think and the characters are a group of troubled souls that earn your sympathy, respect or fear, but still always keep you guessing. There’s something about Drive that feels incomplete, but it’s those holes and that uncertainty that makes the situation and the people feel real therefore making the film all the more powerful.