Drive (2011)

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by Hossein Amini

Nicolas Winding Refn is a name with which I am unfamiliar, but names like Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, and Ron Perlman are all formidable names in my book of actors (which doesn’t actually exist outside of my head). So when they teamed up for a wheelman film which premiered at Cannes, netting Refn the award for Best Director, I took notice and entered with a degree of tepidness, not exactly knowing whether to expect an action movie or some kind of romantic drama with art house style and what I was delivered in the theater was some sort of brilliant amalgamation of all of the above and then some, about which I have been unable to stop thinking.

Ryan Gosling plays a young driver who has worked at a body shop in Los Angeles for a few years now and has become a Hollywood stunt driver on the side. He has also become a getaway driver on the side, entering each job with strict rules to keep him out of dodge. But when he meets his new neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her little boy Benicio, he gets involved in the wrong job. Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) has returned from prison with debt that must be paid, or else Irene and Benicio are also in jeopardy. The driver has immense talent and expertise in getaways, but has he gotten in too deep this time?

As the film opens, it is evident the film will be very stylish, as we are treated to a tense game of cat and mouse as the driver must dodge the cops as he takes two robbers to safety. The setting and mood hit you like a tsunami wave in part to the cinematography and the rest thanks to a score and soundtrack which left me in awe. And what sets this film apart from everything else I’ve seen this year is that the it is carried throughout the film with the same high level of both intensity and a twisted tinge of tenderness. The score by Cliff Martinez, and also the minimal selection of songs on the soundtrack, is infused with electronica which fits the cool style of the film perfectly and gives the film, along with the slow moving narrative, a feel not dissimilar to Blade Runner. But the influences don’t stop there.

The moodiness of the film, along with the abruptness of it’s graphic violence is also reminiscent of recent Korean features which have been lauded by critics. But the film becomes more than just it’s influences by blending them so magically to create something like I’ve never seen rolled into one and all the credit in the world has to go to director Nicolas Winding Refn. I must say that none of the actors deliver great standout performances, but each seems cast so right for the film. Gosling just keeps churning out evidence that he is the actor of his generation and when he is old and gray one day this will be one of those films we will be looking back at and marveling at his talent. He does so much with so little, as the whole film does because all of it seems underdeveloped, but it somehow comes together and works.

The background of the driver is mysterious and never revealed, which is a brilliant stroke, leaving his past just as mysterious as his future seems to be, though one can imagine Viggo Mortensen’s Tom from A History of Violence having such a past. I wondered how he became as hardened as he did, and at the same time how he was so careless about getting involved in an emotional situation. Heck, the lead character is never even given a name, even as his relationship with Irene, which is also underdeveloped yet somehow also convincing, unfolds. He is treated in such an insignificant way that his actions speak volumes, especially when there are probably more moments of silence in the film than dialogue. This is certainly not the action film that such a set-up suggests, and I have been trying to warn my friends of this very thing all the while singing its praises.

With the subject matter of this film it may sound strange to say, but I want to live in this movie, and that is because of the awesome style of the film. I want to walk in slow-mo with awesome electronica playing around me, and awesome cinematography capturing my every move. I want to be able to emote my every thought with a look, body language, or even a good fist fight (or some such thing). But I don’t think the style over substance argument is valid here either because, as cool as the film is and as minimal as the development seems to be, the subtlety of everything that is going on, the mood surrounding the film carry its stakes with them. Nicolas Winding Refn is able to fuse together seemingly everything under the sun to create an outstanding product. When the film concluded in my theater I wanted to stand up and applaud because it was one of the best I have seen all year and a film experience I won’t soon forget.

 

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