Based on James Sallis’ novel of the same name, Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 thriller, Drive sees Ryan Gosling play a character only known as Driver, a stuntman by day and getaway driver at night, whose relationship with single parent Carey Mulligan throws his simplistic existence into a tailspin.
Over the years much has been made of how Drive’s style harkens back to the early work of Michael Mann (Thief in particular) and Walter Hill’s The Driver – and yes the film owes a debt to those works – but the real basis for the film is the western genre. Riffing on Shane in particular, Drive is the story of a man who has lived a life filled with violence and criminality; however, he adheres to a strict moral code, one that makes him protect the weak and innocent – and protect he must when Albert Brooks’ vile film producer, Bernie Rose, causes trouble for Mulligan and her family.
A stripped down action-thriller for the art-house crowd, it’s difficult to watch Drive and imagine how it was originally perceived – as a big budget Hugh Jackman action thriller, with The Descent’s Neil Marshall lined up to direct. However great film could have turned been, it it’s doubtful it have been as wonderful as Winding Refn’s neo-noir. The beating heart of the film is Cliff Martinez’s now iconic synth-tinged score, which throbs throughout the movie, adding further emotion to cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel’s glistening camerawork.
Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman give able support but this is really Brooks’ show. Criminally overlooked for an Academy Award, he delivers a career re-defining performance, adding depth and nuance to a potentially one-dimensional villain. If there is a weak link in Drive it is Carey Mulligan’s Irene. It’s a slight role, and Mulligan’s youth means that she doesn’t quite have the world weariness to pull-off being a hard working mother and convict’s wife. It’s not enough to hurt the movie though, because Gosling can do more emoting with his eyes than a dozen pretty boy actors can do with the entire works of Shakespeare.
Hollywood is constantly trying to surpass itself with special effects and pyrotechnics and Drive takes the route where less is more, showing that it’s not how much money you spend ($15 million in the case here), but it’s what you do with it. Drive is great filmmaking at its best – a story of enormous depth, told simply, which is visually stunning without being overly showy. There’s also that brilliant soundtrack.
I feel a little embarrassed heaping even more immense praise on the brilliant Second Sight Films – but Drive is yet another exceptional release.
The standard blu-ray release of the film comes with a new feature commentary from Nicolas Winding Refn and The Guardian film critic, Peter Bradshaw, a wonderful 70 minute conversation between Winding Refn, editor Mat Newman and composer Cliff Martinez, an interview interview with Mat Newman and a hypnotic 12 minute video essay from Leigh Singer titled 3 Point Turns.