Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is a stripped down action-thriller for the art-house crowd, the perfect antidote to Hollywood’s overly glossy car movies like The Fast and the Furious franchise or Gone in Sixty Seconds. Based on James Sallis’ novel of the same name, 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 life into a tailspin.
Much has been said about how Drive’s retro-vibe harkens back to the early work of Michael Mann (Thief in particular) and Walter Hill’s The Driver, but in reality the basis for the film is really 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 want to protect the weak and innocent – and protect he must when Albert Brooks’ vile film producer, Bernie Rose, causes trouble for Mulligan and her family.
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 that film may have turned out, it wouldn’t have been as wonderful as Winding Refn’s neo-noir. The beating heart of the film is Cliff Martinez’ 80s style, synth-tinged score, which throbs throughout the movie, adding further emotion to cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel’s glistening camerawork.
Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston gives able support alongside B-movie favorite, Ron Perlman, who co-stars as a third-tier criminal, but this is really Brooks’ show. Overlooked for the 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 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.
We live in a time where 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 soundtrack.
There’s the usual selection of trailers and TV spots, but the highlight is the Q&A session with director Nicolas Winding Refn. He discusses everything from “killing” Harrison Ford and detailing how the film began as a $60 million Hugh Jackman blockbuster to bonding with star Ryan Gosling over 80s rock and how this helped bring Drive to the screen. If you love the film then it’s highly recommended.