This is the film that introduced me to Ryan Gosling, and I’ve been a fan ever since. He portrays ‘Driver’, a Hollywood stunt man by day, but a ruthless getaway driver by night. When he steps in to protect next-door neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son, from the gangsters that her husband (Oscar Isaac) is involved with, the Driver finds himself drawn into an escalating conflict within the criminal underworld.
Drive is a cool, atmospheric crime thriller and an exercise in minimalism. I have always found Winding Refn’s visual style very gripping and here, he delivers a gritty neo-noir film. The Driver couldn’t be any further from a typical hero. He barely talks, has little emotion and is motivated by one thing only: driving.
We meet him in the opening sequence, as he transports a pair of thieves, while evading the police. It’s definitely one of the most stylish “action” sequences, and there are no crashes or explosions. Instead, the Driver takes the viewer on a subdued journey through the night-time streets of L.A. The way the sequence is shot, it feels like we’re sitting in the car with him and enduring the ride.
We don’t know anything about the Driver, as we’re given no information about his backstory, and where he came from. In many ways, Gosling’s character is a nod to Clint Eastwood’s “The Man With No Name”, as he almost permanently clutches a toothpick. It’s a nice little throwback.
It’s when the Driver meets Irene and her young son, Benico (Kaden Leos) that he undergoes a change. He develops a sincere bond with Irene and her little boy, and so he starts supporting them. He starts to become more connected to the world around him and although he’s still quiet and subdued, there’s a sense he longs for companionship and even a family.
Unfortunately, Driver’s new-found purpose in life is disturbed when Irene’s husband, Standard comes back from prison. His arrival puts an end to the developing romance between Driver and Irene. And just to point out, Mulligan plays one of the most passive female characters in recent memory. The actress doesn’t have an awful lot to do and the character relies so heavily on the Driver. Most of the characters aren’t deeply layered and it seems to be Winding Refn’s preference for style over substance.
The drama unfolds when Driver discovers that Standard is in serious trouble with local gangsters, as he owes them protection money from his time in prison. Fearful for the safety of his family, Standard is forced to do one last job for the thugs, with the Driver volunteering to help by acting as the getaway driver. As you can probably guess, things don’t go to plan and Driver is left with a bag of cash, and with gangsters gunning for him.
For the first half of the film, Drive presents the viewer with calmness and a sense of well-being, but the latter stages are filled with bloody violence and chaos. I admire the way Winding Refn manages to maintain the retro style, even during the most brutal scenes. Ron Perlman and Alfred Brooks excellent portray the main villains, who are desperate to get their hands on the money the Driver possesses.
The film seems determined to shock the audience, as Drive continues to amp up the ghastly scenes. We’re taken from one atrocity to the next, as the Driver is determined to do whatever means necessary to ensure Irene and Benico’s safety. The main pleasure of Drive, is its unique and retro spin on the crime genre. Despite being very violent, there’s something gracious about Drive. Whether it’s because of the sublime visual style, or due to our unusual hero, but the film has light even in the darkness.
Overall: By the time the credits roll, the violence in Drive surpasses the point that many viewers will be able to bear. But it’s an intense, thrilling and very enjoyable film, that’s the perfect alternative to the typical action and crime movies that are so frequently thrown in our faces. Also, it has a pretty great soundtrack too.
So, if you want to see the driver drive; buy, rent or stream this film immediately, because it’s ultra-fun and one of Gosling’s best films.
Quoted: “There’s a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don’t need to know the route. You give me a time and place, I give you a five minute window.”
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer: Hossein Amini (screenplay), James Sallis (Based on the book by)
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac
Distributor: Icon Film Distribution
Run Time: 100 min