‚~Driver‚(TM) (Ryan Gosling) is a man of few words and keeps to himself while working for his mechanic friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who also gets him some Hollywood stunt man jobs. By night, though, he makes his real money in the criminal underworld as a top-flight getaway driver who lives by a strict code. However, when he develops an affection for his next-door neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) he is drawn into helping her ex-con husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) who has brought unwanted attention and conflict to their doorstep from the local thugs and menacing mafia figures including Nino (Ron Perlman) and Bernie (Albert Brooks).
There's a moment in Drive - and it happens within minutes of it opening - that you release you could be in for something very special. From the outset we are thrust into a heist. This is no ordinary take on a heist, however. We never actually see what is going on during the robbery. All we see is a silent driver, waiting in a car, ready to make a getaway when the looters return to the vehicle. It's hugely effective in allowing us to see things from our main characters point of view and this absolutely gripping and adrenaline filled introduction sets a precedent for what is to come in Refn's abundantly stylish, art-house thriller.
It doesn't stop there, though. Directly following this, a kitsch, vibrant pink, credit sequence is thrust onto the screen as 80's inspired synth-pop track Nightcall by Kavinsky blares overhead. Make no mistake, Drive oozes cool and should be viewed and listened to with the best of screens and speakers available. You can actually feel your senses heightening and the excitement setting in.
As much as Refn has said the film is dedicated to the existentialism of Alejandro Jodorowsky (as was Gosling and Refn's later collaboration Only God Forgives) there are numerous references and influences from a number of films and filmmakers; from car movies like Peter Yates' Bullitt, Monte Hellman's Two Lane Blacktop and Walter Hill's The Driver there are also long protracted night shots of L.A. that are reminiscent of the cityscapes of Michael Mann's Thief or Heat. The influences even extend to Gosling's unnamed character. He has been likened to Clint Eastwood's The Man with No Name from Sergio Leone's classic spaghetti westerns due to his lack of verbal communication but, in terms of living by a strong moral code, he also shares similarities with the lone-warrior mythology of Alain Delon's hitman, Jef Costello, from Jean Pierre-Melville's French classic Le Samoura√Į.
Despite all of these influences, though, Drive still stands as a film in its own right. The story arc is nothing new as the aforementioned films and filmmakers attest to but what makes Drive tick is it's approach. This is a film steeped in mood and atmosphere which is thanks in large to Newton Thomas Sigel's gorgeous cinematography where each moment is expressively captured. Even when the characters say nothing, Refn and Sigel's decision to linger long on shots seems to suggest their innermost thoughts purely by capturing a protracted gaze and Cliff Martinez provides a haunting music score that compliments the striking visuals onscreen. There are also numerous beats of ethereal beauty and just when you‚(TM)re settling into it‚(TM)s meditative tone, you‚(TM)re exposed to sudden fulminations of brutal violence. One moment it can be pondering life, love and relationships, the next it's literally pummelling your head into the ground. The momentary or seemingly deliberate pace it had, making the unrelenting savagery all the more intense and effective.
Refn's unique and poetic approach to the genre also extends to his approach on casting. No tapes or auditions were used; With the exception of Gosling, all actors would meet with the director and he would cast them on the spot if he felt they were right which results in a rich collection of performers where no one puts a foot wrong;
The always excellent Bryan Cranston (apparently ad-libbing most of his lines) pitches in a desperate and downtrodden character and manages to convey a certain world weariness and sadness in how he has come to be where he is in his life; Fresh from her leading actress Oscar nomination for An Education, Carey Mulligan exudes the requisite vulnerability and sensitivity as her innocence is swamped with the depravity and violence around her; Largely unknown at the time, Oscar Isaac turns a very flat underwritten character into a three-dimensional one (that wasn't originally in the script). He brings a charismatic, family man edge to his role and steers him away from the archetypal ex-con. He's hardly in the movie but makes an important contribution and shows just why he's an actor that has went on to bigger things; The same could be said for Christina Hendricks, she has less than a handful of small scenes with sparse dialogue but she still impresses; Normally associated with comedic roles, Albert Brooks plays it convincingly against type and delivers a menacing villain while his henchman in Ron Perlman adds the right balance of presence and ferocity to Brooks' cold calculation; Despite having the most screen time, however, you could say that Gosling actually has less to work with. Being a man of few words, he has to base his performance on mannerisms and subtle facial expressions and he does so with understated brilliance. If you're seeing Drive for the first time then Gosling probably won't stand out as anything special but on repeat viewings it's clear just how commanding a performance he delivers. He can effortlessly act with his eyes alone which allows his silence to speak volumes and with the very nature and mood of the film's dependency on a minimalist lead, Gosling captures it perfectly.
There's a particular understanding and crucial tone to the performances that are fully in tune with Refn's rhythm and elegant, art-house style. He takes a mainstream American idea and defies conventions by putting a European spin on it while employing existentialism and ambiguity as key factors in his vision. This is the very basis that makes Drive such a success. It's respectful to it's audience and turns a tried-and-tested storyline into something fresh and exciting.
A sophisticated, ultra-violent neo-noir that manages to combine a tender love story with intense action set-pieces, while channeling an artistic creativity. To put it simply, it's the best film of 2011 and of the very best in recent years.
Instead of taking a page from stuff like The Fast and the Furious, this is a car movie that, as I mentioned, goes for a far more retro look and feel, yet still throws in plenty of modern sensibilities. It's an action movie, but it's also very artsy, a tad pretentious, and the sort of action film that people would normally hate action movies can get into and enjoy.
In a way, this is a very philosophical film that really grooves on existentialism, mystery, and ambiguity. Our lead is a guy credited simply as Driver, but also referred to as Kid. We don't know his real name, or really all that much about him, aside from surface details. He works in a garage, does part time work as a Hollywood stunt driver, and spends his nights moonlighting as a getaway driver for hire for any criminal that wants him.
He really doesn't say much, but as they say, actions speak louder than words..and when he gets into some nasty business with the mob after a job gone wrong, his responses really get nuts. Mostly that has to do with his neighbor lady (and prospective love interest) getting targeted too, something that Driver just can't stand for, especially since she's an innocent.
So yeah, this film has a very simple, familiar basic premise, and there's not much in the way of character development or heavy , heavy plot, so it's mostly all about the fun stuff like the action and the stunts. What''s funny though, is that the film isn't wall to wall action. When we do get bursts of violence though, they come swiftly, unexpectedly, and things get rather graphic and shocking at times.
Where the film puts almost all of its focus then is on mood, tone, and atmosphere, and, if you dig ambience, then this film will definitely satisfy. The cinematography, music, editing, and all of that is just gorgeous, and the costumes (all hail cool gloves and jackets) rock, as do the cars. The film is sorta deep in a very ponderous way, but I enjoyed it.
It's probably not really as deep as it wants you to think it is, mostly because it is very vague, and the dialogue is quite sparse at times, but hey, sometimes it's okay to just loosen up and let things flow, even if not a long happens (until the sudden bits of violence from time to time). If the film had spent some more time giving insight into the characters, and really developing them a lot more, then I'd definitely bump this up to a full 5.
As it stands though, I just can't quite do that. I do dig the performances here. Gosling is definitely starting to eclipse Depp as the epitome of cool, and there's nothing wrong with that. He's a bad ass, even if his lonely and mysterious ways can sometimes be frustrating. Carey Mulligan is nice as Driver's neighbor/potential love Irene, even if she does spend most of her time looking at him longingly without saying a word. Oscar Isaac is good in his role as an ex-con who decides to play the part atypically. Bryan Cranston also delivers solid work as always as Driver's main business associate. The villains though are where the film gets juicy. Perlman of course is stellar, but yes, as tons of people have already stated many times before, this film features an excellent villainous turn from funny man Albert Brooks. He's played baddies before, but this is the first time he's played one that was legitimately scary, intense, and intimidating. Damn the Oscars for snubbing him, because he's brilliant.
Blah, blah, blah. You should have picked up on how I feel about this film at this point. It's awesome. Go see it. It's not a perfectly brilliant piece of work, but I definitely do think it lives up to the hype.
I was attracted to the style of 'Drive', but more, perhaps macabrely, to the supposed violence of it. The film is spattered with torrents of claret, stark shankings and devastating gunshot wounds; there's also a spot of stomping. The film dishes out violence as it is, ugly and nasty.
The film started strongly, Gosling was convincing and intimidating, and he remains that way throughout the film, but surely playing the strong silent type is easy money? 'Strong silent type' is something of an understatement, the man is utterly devoid of conversational skills, only when he is working or amidst the drama of the latter half of the film does he fire up. Gosling is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's iconic anti-hero roles; but I also made a connection with Dustin Hoffman's performance in 'Rain Main'. It's this extremity that perhaps makes his relationship with Irene (Carey Mulligan) slightly implausible (some of their interactions are stupidly painful). Despite this, I think the Driver's growing intensity and his dexterity in violence is gripping; Gosling really nailed it.
After my first viewing I was really quite ambivalent about 'Drive'. "The film wasn't bad" I thought, "I'm glad that I saw it". I liked the exciting and somewhat smart and fresh car chase in the introduction; I liked the mood of the film. For the most part, I felt it was the prior knowledge of the film's uncompromising nature that created the sombre, moody atmosphere. It was also the fitting, bass heavy electronic soundtrack that complimented the night sequences. But I left the cinema feeling somewhat hollow; I was preoccupied with how I was going to navigate the M25 and the Dartford Crossing.
Despite the film having lack of depth and a meagre ending; its unforgiving nature made the film stay under my skin. It made me think that perhaps a second viewing would change my opinion, but on first viewing I couldn't agree with its surprisingly positive reviews, and certainly not with the current 'tomato meter' of 93%. I was surprised at how the film was actually being complimented for being vacuous, "How has it managed that?" I thought.
After coming to the conclusion that perhaps a second viewing was necessary, I did just that a few months later, and I preferred it, quite a lot in fact. I suppose I knew what to expect, so I made the most of it, lapping up its style and visceral edge. How on earth did the film possibly make a white padded jacket with a yellow scorpion on the back cool? And the driving gloves, they just reek of cool, oh and that black Ford Mustang... I am so impressionable. It got my heart pumping like few other films had accomplished; I really couldn't believe how the film had grown on me.
I vehemently disagree with the supposed 'subtexts' some people have mentioned. I have read condescending statements on how viewers should 'look closer' to 'understand' the film; pompous nonsense from pseudo-intellectuals.
Ultimately, though, like so many films, especially those that fall into the revenge/retribution format (think Death Wish/Taxi Driver), they're good until the last stanza, they're hard to wrap up. But I even preferred the ending on second viewing, it leaves unanswered questions; out of the ways they could've ended it, this was probably the most appropriate choice. Drive is an engrossing, genuinely nail-biting film. Though it is a trifle superficial, it's guaranteed to thrill you.
Refn has nailed the mood of this film, providing us with an unsettling and anxious feel that constantly has us on the edge, even when nothing much seems to be happening on screen.
And that's exactly what happens! Moments of unsettling 'not much happening here' to flashes of over the top 'hell of a lot going on here'!
Gosling plays the part-sociopath-part-psychopath 'Driver' to a T, although the somewhat drab and prolonged character study on display may be a little tedious for some.
The faux-pas 80s sound track works well for the film and deadpan direction, but at times seems a little tacky and desperate.
Overall, this is a mature film targeted at a direct audience; primarily those with an open mind.
For fans of exploitation and genre filmmaking, it doesn't take long to see that Drive comes from very familiar stock. It is at its most basic level a B-movie, a pulpy thriller with a classic heist-gone-wrong plotline and a series of dark criminal dealings. There are clear through-lines with Taxi Driver and the films of Paul Schrader, with their protagonist as God's lonely man surrounding by a world filled with corruption and hopelessness. And in its more thoughtful moments, the film resembles existential thrillers like Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai, Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger, or Anton Corbijn's The American.
The first real success of Drive is its acceptance of its B-movie origins, and its use of said acceptance as the foundation for something a lot less ordinary. Had its story been handled by Quentin Tarantino, the film would have thrust its references down our throats in the midst of unlikeable, unbelievable characters - we would, in essence, have ended up with Death Proof 2. Tarantino's recent efforts have attempted to embrace or ride on the back of exploitation cinema while not obeying any of exploitation's rules about brevity and self-awareness. But Refn is more honest about his background: he has no problem with applying its principles, giving us a film that feels well-oiled and efficient.
The only common ground that Drive has with Tarantino is its combination of highly stylised visuals and brutal violence. If you wanted to be pithy you could describe it as a simpler, more streamlined Pulp Fiction, albeit with only one storyline. The violence in both films often erupts from nowhere, and neither Refn nor Quentin pull any punches. The scene where Ryan Gosling's character beats up a man in the lift is akin to the scene in Gasper Noe's Irreversible where Albert Dupontnel beats an anonymous gangster to death with a fire extinguisher. The film earns its 18 certificate for this scene alone, not to mention the sight of Mad Men's Christina Hendricks being shot to pieces.
While Tarantino described Pulp Fiction as a tangential look at the various clichťs and story arcs of the pulp genre - for instance, what do hit-men do between jobs - Refn has likened Drive to a Grimm's fairy tale. He envisioned The Driver as a modern-day knight in shining armour, roaming the land saving damsels in distress and defending what he believes is right by whatever means are necessary. He cannot commit to relationships because his life's calling leads to him being frequently put in danger and thereby risking harm to others.
But while the mediaeval knights, in fairy tales at least, were seemingly pure of heart and noble in intentions, The Driver's moral compass is a bit more complex and askew. While he desires to keep others from peril, he is almost drawn to it, either because he knows no other way of life, or because he is actually psychopathic, and we are lucky that his psychopathy is not driven by harming us. His attachment to cars and the thrill of driving them is borderline symbiotic, and while he is never reckless in his pursuits, you always feel he secretly craves being in danger. Why else would a getaway driver spend his day doing dangerous stunts? It's hardly the most convincing cover story.
When I reviewed A Royal Affair two months ago, I talked about how the central romantic conflict at the film reflected the Arthurian legends, specifically how the fatal affair between Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere led to the downfall of both Arthur and his kingdom. While Drive isn't so bold as to suggest that The Driver's attraction to Irene will doom both them and their world to destruction, their relationship is similar in that it shakes their world to its foundations. Irene's devotion to her husband is no longer as strong or unconditional, while The Driver's abstaining from attachment - his chastity, if you like - is brought into question by his strong desire to protect her.
The film is rooted in the great performance of Ryan Gosling - a performance which seems to have single-handedly lifted him out of the indie leagues and onto the Hollywood A-list. Comparisons have been drawn with Clint Eastwood's The Man with No Name or with Steve McQueen, but in fact Gosling's performance is closer to the work of Charles Bronson. Not only is there a vague connection to Death Wish in the later section of the film, but Gosling is far more laconic and brooding even than Eastwood. Put simply, he doesn't need to do or say much to convince us that he isn't warped or threatening in some way, and even when he does speak, it's rarely reassuring.
Gosling is supported by Carey Mulligan, who continues to impress in roles where she seems at odds with the world around here, following on from her performance in Never Let Me Go. Bryan Cranston, best known for playing Hal in Malcolm in the Middle, is completely unrecognisable as Shannon, disappearing behind the scruffy beard and make-up to create a really slippery character. There is also good support from Albert Brooks, playing completely against type, and Ron Perlman, doing anything but. The only performer who is underused is Christina Hendricks: it's such a small and relatively thankless role that you wonder why she was chosen for it.
While the cast are pretty stellar (Gosling in particular), the really memorable aspect of Drive is its aesthetic. It's ultimately a film which is interested as much in the surface as the subtext: it regards the storyline and fairy tale themes or motifs as being every bit as important as the sound of the car's engine, or the colour of the clothes The Driver wears. There is a vaguely Lynchian tone to the proceedings, with the film treading close to the territory of Lost Highway in the paranoia and identity crisis of the central character.
Because the story of Drive is so relatively straightforward (compared to either Lynch or Tarantino), its strength lies in marrying the different aspects of its aesthetic together. The film is shot by Newton Thomas Sigel, best known for his collaborations with Bryan Singer. He gives the film a glossy, 1980s sheen, borrowing the title font from Risky Business and drawing on his work on The Usual Suspects to make even the grimiest detail seem perversely pleasing. Refn's compositions are excellent, particularly during the lift scene and the few incidences of actual driving.
The film also benefits from a superb soundtrack from Cliff Martinez, former drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers who worked with Steven Soderbergh on Traffic and sex, lies and videotape. Not only do the synth pop choices make sense within the context of the film, but the soundtrack is very well-mixed, taking account of the variations in noise emanating from the party and the movements of Refn's camera, for instance as it pans across an empty bench towards a ringing phone. The engines in Drive are a soundtrack unto themselves, with Refn following the lead of Bullitt and the Mad Max trilogy in allowing them to score the driving sequences without the interference of 'real music'.
Drive is a great film which is set to become a classic of this decade. It epitomises everything good about filmmaking in 2011, without falling into many modern traps or feeling ashamed of where it came from. Gosling's central performance combines threat and bravado with undeniable charisma, and the whole product runs like a well-oiled machine. While it's arguably too familiar or generic to be considered a perfect film, it contains everything needed to make it genuinely great.
Ryan walks around not saying much and his relationship with Carey and her young son is a real stretch of disbelief. Yes, he's okay looking, but what else would she see in him, really? The story with him getting caught up in trouble with her ex also rings untrue and Christina Hendricks has a small role here, which is the worst I have ever seen her act.
There's also a surprising amount of violence, which I didn't expect here and I don't think is really warranted in the story.