Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers: Hossein Amini (screenplay), James Sallis (book)
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston
In hindsight Drive was probably the film that acted as the spark for Mr. Gosling’s transformation from heartthrob, rom-com regular into the more varied and refined actor he is today. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, the man also responsible for one of my favourite Tom Hardy films, Bronson, produced a cracker with this one too.
Ryan Gosling’s character isn’t given a name, channeling his best inner Clint Eastwood, he’s merely referred to as ‘Driver’ throughout. But rest assured, this is very much his film and the story closely follows this initially quiet and unassuming gentleman. He works as a Hollywood stunt driver by day and moonlights as a mob getaway driver at night. His steely, ice cold persona and incredible driving skills enabling him to excel at both professions. A perfect car flip, completed in one take, highlighting this perfectly.
He has a bit of a strange request that he demands of the crooks in exchange for his service. He only drives for five minutes and then no matter where they are, he parks up and leaves. This is perhaps perfectly encapsulated in the films striking opener when he swings into a car park nearby a baseball ground and casually bails out. It was an interesting, rather illogical and slightly strange, concept to implement into a getaway driver’s character and one of only two small gripes I had with the film.
Shortly after meeting him, things begin to improve in his personal and professional life. He slowly develops a relationship with his next door neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young kid Benicio. Shannon (Bryan Cranston), his friend and the man responsible for engineering much of his work on both fronts, lines up a legitimate business venture for him as a racing driver with two Italian mobster contacts, Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman) sponsoring it. This provides Driver with the opportunity to leave his criminal life behind and look to a brighter future.
It’s heavily hinted that their relationship is purely platonic, mostly thanks to the gentlemanly, chivalrous, unspoken manner assumed by Driver every time they’re together. This is perhaps for the best because her troubled, convict husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison and upsets the cosy equilibrium built between Benicio, his mother and their new friend. This moment is absolutely pivotal. It represents the turning point for Driver and the film itself.
Standard finds himself being blackmailed for protection money, an issue that soon threatens to endanger his young family. When Driver gets wind of this, he agrees to help out, returning to his familiar role as getaway driver one final time. Things don’t go quite as anticipated however. Standard is brutally killed in the aftermath and both Blanche (Christina Hendricks), an associate that tags along for the robbery and Driver are left at the mercy of the two previously mentioned mobsters. Well, Nino initially, but Bernie is soon drawn in too to clean up the mess.
Drive descends into hyper-violent madness after this and it’s this part of the film I got the most enjoyment from. It went a little John Wick at times with shotgun shots to the head, impalings, a brutal kicking in an elevator and a shocking wrist slice moment accompanied with strange words of comfort. Then there’s a highly memorable scene played out to the perfectly fitting Riz Ortolani’s ‘Oh My Love’. The score in this film is fantastic incidentally, that particular scene was the icing on the cake in that regard though the final scene is a close second.
The violence seems a little out of context and not at all in the nature of the Driver we seen in the first half, but then again, there was a subtle hint at this psycho undertone in his psyche during a brief bar altercation with a previous associate.
Gosling is fantastic in this film. He plays the role perfectly, his facial expressions are a little jarring at times, making him seem almost devoid of emotion, but I enjoyed the rollercoaster ride of madness he went through. Albert Brooks was incredible as Bernie. The calm indifference to the brutal violence he dished out was a tad unnerving. Though I’ll admit to laughing at that violent moment involving a fork. I’m not sure if that was the intended reaction or whether I’m just sick in the head. Cranston was decent as was Perlman. The whole cast were solid in reality. Hendrick’s cameo was outstanding, especially the look of foretelling terror she had in the motel room.
In the end, Drive was an incredibly enjoyable watch, particularly the taut, violent trail of vengeance that embodied the films second half. I’m not entirely sure when the film was set, but it had an 80s vibe that was only accentuated by the score, visuals and even that distinct scorpion bomber that only Gosling could pull off. It’s billed as a crime/drama film, but the violent, lone wolf, showdown with Bernie was like a homage to an Eastwood classic and made it feel more like a neo-western. It wasn’t cinematic perfection, not many movies are. For instance, the motivation behind Driver’s actions weren’t the most logical, but I wasn’t too perturbed by that.
I’d highly recommend giving this a watch if you haven’t yet seen it.