Genre: Crime Drama
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks
Duration: 100 min.
A Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong.
Drive is a film from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, based on a novel by James Sallis. It premiered in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival to a fifteen minute standing ovation where the jury also awarded Refn with the prize for Best Director.
The film begins with a truly masterfully directed sequence. A suspenseful, dramatic, and tension filled five minute long getaway drive where the camera never leaves the nameless driver's car. Refn puts us in the passenger seat and keeps us there, right on the precipitous edge. The scene plays out with no dialogue, the only voices we hear come from a police scanner and the play by play broadcast of a Clippers game on the radio. As the Driver (Ryan Gosling) silently and coolly eludes the pursuit of LAPD helicopters and cruisers.
Ice cold, unlike his two panicked clients hunched down in the backseat, his heart-rate never rises above that of the constant slow pulsing electro soundtrack that accompanies the scene. He seems to be in complete control with a backup alley, side street, or car park for every possible contingency. It's an exhilarating exercise in style that not only provides a great introduction to the main character, but also paints the overall tone and setting of the film; an alternate universe where the 80's never ended, a modern day Vice City.
Gosling is outstanding and exudes coolness, a quiet antihero who is very good at what he does, vaguely reminding us of some other iconic men-with-no-name. The supporting cast is also impressive, Bryan Cranston is marvelous as Shannon, the mentor and small time has-been with a bum leg who lives vicariously through 'the kid'. The adorable Carey Mulligan looks more than ever like she really just needs a hug, but she perfectly conveys a simultaneous longing and apprehension towards her mysterious neighbor in a few tension filled shared glances. Effective, even if their sparks don't fly, and I'm not so sure they are even supposed to, to me their relationship is more about him trying to save the little boy from possibly his own fate.
Another standout is Albert Brooks who is chilling as Bernie, the ruthless crime boss with a thing for fancy knives. Ron Perlman also impresses as Nino, Bernie's partner and the catalyst for all of the fateful events in the film. Even Christina Hendricks does a fine job in a small but crucial part that required a carefully delivered and convincing performance.
It should be noted though that while all of these characters are well acted, they and in fact the story itself are essentially hollow shells. Drive exists strictly on the level of a simple fable, fairy tale, or like most other formulaic Hollywood productions. In this case the lack of depth is not entirely a bad thing. It succeeds primarily because of the glorious style in which it is presented. Refn's brilliant direction, Newton Thomas Sigel stunning cinematography, Cliff Martinez' amazing score, and the perfectly matched retro soundtrack (Exhibit A: College feat. Electric Youth - A Real Hero), all combine to make the sprawling blight that is Los Angeles appear like an ultra cool place. A difficult feat that only Michael Mann and maybe William Friedkin have managed to do before.
Secondly, it works because the film stays focused and concise instead of leaning on pointless effects and distractions, never trying to do or show more than it should. The action is restrained and not used as a sideshow or fireworks display; and the violence although extreme, only occurs when necessary. The highlight is one unforgettable scene in an elevator inspired in part by Gaspar Noé's Irréversible, an absolutely breathtaking display of filmmaking that will go down as an instant classic.
Drive is an expertly crafted film, and even if it has all been done before, it is still an intelligent cinematic thrill ride that bridges the gap between art-house and multiplex, and without a doubt the best time I've had at the latter this year. I cross my fingers and hope the attention this receives will open the door to more auteur-oriented productions destined for the mainstream.
— Bonjour Tristesse