dir. Nicholas Winding Refn
Release Date: Sep 16, 11
There is something about the nighttime drive that is equal parts hypnotic and soul-affirming. The combination of halogen light and shadow conjures a sort of romantic ambience, one which Drive spends its runtime offseting with stark bursts of graphic violence. Nicholas Winding Refn knows exactly how to manipulate an audience by keeping it on its toes; just look at the font over the opening credits, reminiscent of the poster art from Heathers, or the new-wave soundtrack that hums underneath the neo-noir trappings.
Driver (Ryan Gosling) works as a stuntman by day while enabling criminal getaways by night. His rule: For five minutes, he is yours, no matter what happens. Should anything happen before or after, it’s not his problem. This life policy works nicely for his various jobs, as well as his dealings with Shannon (Bryan Cranston), a shady mechanic. Where it begins to fail him is when he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan), a temporarily single mother (her husband is in prison) with whom Driver becomes involved. Where the inevitabilities begin and end with Drive is the moment when Driver becomes attached to Irene and her son, and when this unfortunately dovetails with his night job.
Refn makes sure to take very little time setting up the players and stakes, before moving into territory that feels at once uncharted and wholly familiar. Drive is an immersion in a fully realized criminal underworld, one that mercifully stays away from syndicates, mobs and the like and instead focuses on Bernie (Albert Brooks, funny and sinister in equal doses), an “investor,” and his partner Nino (Ron Perlman), a tempermental crook. As the bodies begin to pile up (oh, how they do) and Driver begins to realize that full measures must be taken, Drive flawlessly evolves into a sleek action film and a finely observed character study at once, all while maintaining a relentless momentum.
The center of Drive, and the reason it’s not only a truly great genre film but also one of the very best movies of the year, is Gosling’s performance. In the early scenes Driver is so soft-spoken that when he speaks, you can’t help but feel relieved. Understanding the value of few words in creating automatic mystery, Gosling plays things as subtle and subdued here as he’s played verbose in the past. This is a modern takeoff on the Steve McQueen character, a man of few words and big actions. When Driver finally begins to take that action, it’s all the more shocking just what kind of violence this quiet man is capable of.
Throughout all the twists and bloodshed, Drive maintains that hypnotic sense of the nighttime drive that effortlessly establishes a mood, time and place without so much as a single word. There’s not an inessential scene in the film, and frankly, when a film is this good, inessential scenes would be beside the point. This is one of those rare filmic universes that you want to linger in and savor, and that is a rare and beautiful thing, much like Drive itself.