Plot: A car-mechanic and Hollywood stuntman, who occasionally moonlights as a getaway driver for low-level criminals, finds himself drawn into a dodgy money deal when he falls for his married neighbor.
Thoughts: Within modern cinema, cars have become pornography to the eyes. Warn-out franchises such as ‘Fast & Furious’ and ‘Transformers’ milk the parts for the visual candy their viewers need, tossing aside 90% of their cinematic functions to simply excite and explode. Not since the 80’s has driving been taken as seriously as it is in ‘Drive’, a decade well remembered by the film’s director which has a clear and distinct stamp on the final motion of the piece.
The opening alone is art of the highest calibre. Ryan Gosling’s silent Driver simply does exactly that, he drives; but it’s the way he drives that so captivates and ultimately enthralls our eyes into a frenzy of sheer wonder. Gosling is so fluent in his execution, so unfazed by any aspect of his role that he’s instantly believable and so, we cling to his now legendary white jacket. We cling and we never let go; we never want to let go. Director Nicolas Winding Refn not only creates this longing, but amplifies it and uses it to great effect, forever tugging on our loyalty to Gosling’s Driver, forever reminding us of how unimaginably cool and composed he is, and in doing so creates one of the greatest and most memorable characters of all time.
Despite being possibly generic in some views, the plot allows room for Refn to truly showcase his uncanny ability to amaze. The story ticks by casually, merely a vehicle to expand The Driver, to test him, to watch him, but always offers plenty of meat for both the cast, the crew and the viewer to chew on. Shocking acts of brutal violence are also sewn into the lining of the tale, but only surface when necessary and only extend to realistic effect, never once do we see Refn get carried away, he’s calm and composed just like his star. It is this composure which helps to highlight his true talent as a director. The movie could have been taken in a number of different directions, mostly ending up horrifically uniform and too Hollywood to fully swallow. Instead Refn veers off down a radically different turning adopting heavily tinted night-shots, pumping 80’s electronica and hot-pink titling. It is here where ‘Drive’ finds its true originality, its place amongst the other car-related features; it’s an art-house character-driven crime thriller, and never tries to be anything more, or anything less.
Although Gosling steals the show, strong and memorable support is handed by the sweetly innocent Carey Mulligan who, despite her lack of input, matches her co-star’s innate ability to capture the viewer’s attention with a simple eye flicker or facial movement. Long, lingering shots of the two simply gazing into each other’s eyes, devoid of dialogue or movement, stand out as a mark of their excellency; never once are we bored, our eyes forever transfixed on every muscle, waiting and demanding movement and so so grateful when it finally comes. Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman all make able and gracious performances, not a foot out of place but far from the same league as the lead.
The most fragrant feature of Refn’s ‘Drive’ is however, the very existence of The Driver. Even if he’s just simply sitting and staring vacantly out of a muddied windshield, he is demanding your vision and your thoughts; and he always gets what he wants. It is only within the several moments of sheer terror brought upon by the fantastically sickening sound work that we get a real glimpse at the fearless fiend that lies beneath Gosling’s pretty-boy exterior. These moments are the ones that truly allow the multi-layered Driver to show most of himself, to show his hidden vulnerability as the beast takes over. Although revolting to some, the violent and frenzied action sequences are hereby necessary and present an unmistakable path to truly absorbing The Driver as a character.
Ultimately, ‘Drive’ is possibly the most originally approached and awe-inspiring collection of celluloid to reach screens this year, and due to one of the most finely tuned and thoughtful performances ever captured (by Ryan Gosling, of course), it will no doubt sit unbelievably high on the list of films considered to be the greatest of all time. Nicolas Winding Refn has created something truly beautiful, packed with nerve-wrecking tension, shocking brutality and simple artistic passion; ‘Drive’ is in many ways a masterpiece, and solid proof that driving doesn’t have to be exploited to be enjoyed.