To those children of the 80’s, Drive might seem like a welcomed trip in the way back machine to the kinds of dramatic films your parents would watch as you peeked through a cracked door. Not a period piece mind you, or even a true 80’s movie, Nicholas Winding Refn’s film just has a timeless look and feel that is both muted and yet bold (like a Michel Mann film). Further, that “look” is made enticing and ethereal thanks to Refn’s stylish visuals and a perfect selection of songs and score from Cliff Martinez. Winner of Best Director award at Cannes, this film has been getting so much attention and frankly it deserves all of it. Hold on tight, Drive is one intense thrill ride.
You want to pull off a heist? Well, the rules are simple. You do the job yourself and you get five minutes with the best driver money can buy to take you speedily away no questions asked; anything after that, you’re on your own. Nicholas Winding Refn’s loose adaptation of the novel Drive, like those rules (and pretty much all his films) is just as simple. You have a flawed protagonist and a slew of damaged characters all trying to find their way through the whole rotten mess making it all seem as a dreamlike 80’s styled Western.
Ryan Gosling (simply named Driver) plays a part time Hollywood stunt driver but that profession is really of little consequence as his living comes from being a mechanic and a premier wheelman to the robber community. As fate would have it he meets Carey Mulligan (Irene) and the more their paths cross the more they start to enjoy each other’s company. But enter her child and her soon to be released convict baby’s daddy Standard and the chances of a relationship don’t look so good. Although Gosling’s character has taken a liking to Irene and her son so he decides to help out Standard after his prison debt is called due. Now throw in a botched heist, some middle rung mob underlings waiting behind the scenes and Drive gets pretty nasty pretty fast in an almost beautiful, if dismal, downward spiral of a getaway noir-ish thriller.
A mixed bag of casting to say the least, Refn get a lot of mileage out of his cast as Gosling, Mulligan, Cranston and the bunch to sheer perfection. In the case of Gosling this has got to be his best role to date combining tons of raw and pure emotion into every scene that just ooze with realism. He plays the reserved role like a champ but when he explodes he does so like nitrous. Though for as great as Gosling is, the same can be said for the surprising turn from Albert Brooks who comes off like you’ve never seen him. We’ve all known Ron Pearlman to be a it of a tough guy but at first Brooks/Perlman play it like good parent/bad parent and later we find Brooks has a very very ugly side. In Drive, Refn does for Brooks what Tarantino did with David Carradine in Kill Bill. Translation; Brooks is an intimidating and bona fide badass (and a far cry from Finding Nemo’s Marlin that’s for sure).
On the surface this may appear to be like The Transporter but save for a car and a driver this shares almost no similarities. Embodying that same level of grit and realism as the Pusher series Drive isn’t nearly as depressing. There are moments of joy but they don’t last very long and that is more appropriate to the tone of the film because nothing is forced. In this his most commercially appealing film to date Drive feels less art house but stripped down to core essentials like his previous work proving time and again that he can do more with less.
You probably expect Drive after a while to be a balls out revenge story but if you’ve seen Refn’s other films you should know his flair is that the narrative of his stories are subdued which actually intensifies the scenes and brings the tension way up which is what Refn does best (again, akin to Michael Mann or even the Coens). No one comes out ahead in a Refn film; it’s all about who can live with a tarnished conscience and the most scars. Unglamourous to say the least and even though it gets heavily and unexpectedly violent, Drive is still enticingly captivating, taught and, moreover, just a perfect film.
Although Refn isn’t very fond of the Hollywood system, his foray into the fold (which he likens to a prostitute) is a tense adrenaline fueled ride. His films are so across the board that he seems to transcend a term like “style” which makes me even more eager to see how the remake of Logan’s Run plays out. Will it be another great film that’s too cool for Hollywood or will he embrace the big budget beast he shuns? I ‘m betting of the former but as far as the here and now, Drive has already become one of my favorite films of this year sitting comfortably among 13 Assassins and X-Men First Class. Firing on all cylinders, Refn’s film is simply superb; it turns on a dime and gives you nine cents change.
For those of you interested we recorded the Q&A held after the screening which was hosted by Alamo Drafthouse’s Chase Whale and features the simply hilarious and insightful thought process behind Nichols Winding Refn’s work….it’s really worth your time (just be advised that due to the riotous laughter the audio may spike at times).
Make plans to go see Drive when it opens on September 16th 2011.