“If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours no matter what. I don’t sit in while you’re running it down; I don’t carry a gun… I drive.”
These are the words spoken by Ryan Gosling’s enigmatic Driver at the advent of Drive, Nicholas Winding Refn’s pulsating yet icy cool noir thriller about a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. It’s this no-nonsense statement that Driver lives by and that’s exactly how a lot of Drive plays – lean, mean and straight to the point. Evocative of early Michael Mann, Refn’s gritty, stylish and sexy picture is rooted in genre conventions but the way its shot, cut, and acted is what makes it such a remarkable, mesmerizing movie-going experience. If the television spots and trailers for Drive have given you the impression that this is a Transporter knock-off, you’re sorely mistaken. Nope, this is a character-driven thriller that’s what you’d get when you combine Mann’s crime thrillers Heat and Collateral with David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence with the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City thrown in for good measure. Uh yea, it’s that good.
Like in Mann’s films, Drive features a near-silent protagonist in the vein of Clint Eastwood’s the Man with No Name and Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle i.e. loners whose actions speak louder than words. As played by the prodigiously-talented Gosling (who’s been having a banner year, thanks to Blue Valentine, summer comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love and the upcoming The Ides of March), he is a cool, calm and collected hero who veils an animal inside him waiting to be unleashed. From the incredibly tense and gripping opening sequence itself, where Driver effortlessly maneuvers his way past multiple cops giving chase including a helicopter while transporting two thieves, we get a sense that this is not some dumb lackey but an intelligent, resourceful and gifted guy who is always in control. Though I’m reluctant to dub this performance the best of Gosling’s career (that would be his work in either Blue Valentine or Half Nelson), this performance is certainly going to be the iconic role that’ll open the inevitable doors to superstardom.
So enough about Gosling’s character… You want to know what the movie is about, right? The plot of Drive kicks into gear when Driver forms a bond with his beautiful neighbor Irene (an understated Carey Mulligan), a single mother who also harbors feelings for him. Alas, whatever potential bond they share is put aside when Irene’s ex-con husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) gets out of prison and attempts to start a new life with his family. Unfortunately, for Standard to live his new life, he’s forced to carry out a robbery as payback for his protection in prison or else see his wife and son killed. Understanding Standard’s dilemma, Driver offers to help him as the getaway driver. As to be expected, nothing goes to plan and Driver’s entire world is put into imbalance. What happens from then on will surprise and shock you in ways no other movie this year will. That much I can guarantee.
Gosling may be the star of the picture thanks to his work here but it’s director Refn who is the real MVP of the show. On paper, the plot of Drive isn’t anything to be impressed about – it’s pure genre stuff that you’ve seen a hundred times before. But the way Refn shoots, cuts, and paces the film, elevates it into high art! Unlike most action pictures, Drive is slow paced, and many scenes in the film long sequences devoid of dialogue that focus on the body language of the characters instead. This isn’t going to sit well with everyone but it definitely did it for me. However, what’s really going to have everyone talking about this film is the way Refn alternates these quiet moments with blistering scenes of shocking, graphic violence. Trust me, there are moments in this picture that’ll have you covering your face in shock! A scene set in an elevator in particular is one for the ages. It just might be the greatest scene set in an elevator since The Departed. If anything, this film is a showcase of Refn’s impeccable talent as a filmmaker. No wonder he won the prestigious Best Director award at Cannes.
Other than Refn and Gosling, the film’s other standout is veteran character actor Albert Brooks who plays the film’s primary antagonist Bernie Ross, a low level hoodlum whose penchant for violence is as shocking as the fact that he’s played by Albert Brooks. Brooks, renowned for his comedy work (Broadcast News, Finding Nemo) is shockingly terrifying as a former B-level movie producer who turned to crime when the film business went sour. Again, this character could have been a very one-note villain but Brooks’ charismatic performance draws you to this character, arguably even finding sympathy for his plight.
It’s been a month since I watched Nicholas Winding Refn’s magnetic thriller Drive yet it lingers in my memory like a film I’ve only watched last night. It’s stylish, it’s cool, it’s unbearably tense and even hypnotizing thanks to Refn’s stylish direction. Pair that with a memorable soundtrack, shocking violence and action, gorgeous cinematography, and last but not least, a sensational, sure-to-be-iconic performance from Gosling, and you’ve got yourself one of the year’s most rewarding movie-going experiences.