Ryan Gosling Stars in Instant Classic ‘Drive’
CHICAGO – Nicholas Winding Refn’s “Drive” is an amazing thriller, a modern examination of heroism filtered through the fairy tale culture of the underbelly of the movie machine that is easily one of the most memorable and effective films of not just this year but the last several. The Ryan Gosling vehicle (no pun intended) came to U.S. critics with a ton of buzz after a Best Director win and rapturous praise at the Cannes Film Festival. This is one of those few times where such a film lived up to massive expectations.
Never named throughout the film and credited only as Driver (Gosling), the protagonist of “Drive” purposefully comes off like an old-fashioned movie icon not unlike Steve McQueen. He’s a stunt man who also serves as a getaway driver for criminals. He is stoic, matter-of-fact, and instinctual. In a riveting opening sequence, he informs his clients that they have his services with the motor running outside of their chosen destination for five minutes, no more. He doesn’t want to know what’s going on. He doesn’t want any personal interaction. And he won’t wait an extra second. Driver is a man who is either acting or stationary. There is no in-between. He’s either driving or he’s not, and this either/or, black/white mentality will inform the decisions he makes throughout the film.
Photo credit: Film District
Those decisions start when he makes contact with the lovely new single mother down the hall, a sweetheart named Irene (Carey Mulligan). It feels like Driver has had very little human interaction outside of that he happens upon through his dual jobs as a stunt man and a mechanic, both under the tutelage and mentorship of the troubled Shannon (Bryan Cranston). After a few chance meetings and help with her disabled vehicle, Driver gets close enough to Irene to meet her son and discover that her baby daddy Standard (Oscar Isaac) happens to be in jail, but will be coming home soon.
Meanwhile, Shannon is getting involved again with some shady gangsters headed by slick Bernie (Albert Brooks), who gets his muscle from the obnoxious Nino (Ron Perlman). Bernie finances a new vehicle which Driver will race, but that plotline quickly gets discarded when Standard comes home from the clink and informs our hero that he’s being pressured by jailhouse acquaintances to do “one more job” involving a pawn shop. To keep Irene and her son from potential danger, Driver agrees to help and a lovely woman named Blanche (Christina Hendricks) comes along for the ride. After the job goes horribly awry, things get very, very complicated.
Or do they? In many ways, they actually get much more cut and dry. The first half of “Drive” plays not unlike a modern noir with shifting allegiances, slimy gangsters, and a potential love story fraught with possible complications. After the brutal violence that occurs after the pawn shop, “Drive” becomes a tale about a good guy going after some very bad ones. Refn and writer Hossein Amini shift gears and pretty clearly telegraph where the film is going – Driver will make people pay. It’s not unlike the first half of the film is the “job” – as Driver sits outside waiting to go into action – and the second half is the getaway. We know he will get to point B from point A. The only question is the route he will take.
Photo credit: Film District
“Drive” is the kind of remarkably stylish affair that makes for an instant cult hit. With inspirations like David Lynch, Michael Mann, and Quentin Tarantino, Refn has made a visually striking film that warrants those comparisons. He finds the poetry in the violence, taking the time to linger on a shadow, a splash of blood, or a closing fist. With style hinted at in the director’s “Bronson” and “Valhalla Rising,” Refn turns what could have been no-brainer action piece upside-down and makes it something greater; something visceral and downright instinctual. “Drive” doesn’t feature long monologues between good guys and bad guys. It doesn’t feature people explaining their motivations or issuing hollow threats.
This is one of those rare films that works both as adrenalin-pumping action and as a work of art. Refn creates striking imagery but never loses the context, resulting in a film that’s artistic without being pretentious. He uses bizarre ‘80s fonts for his credits and blasts some of the cheesiest music you’ll hear in a theater, always trying to keep the viewer on his toes. It’s a movie that plays with classic archetypes but presents them in such a way that they feel completely fresh. It’s like something you’ve seen before filtered through something brand new.
Photo credit: Film District
One of the main reasons that “Drive” doesn’t get weighed down with pretension is that the stellar cast grounds the piece in humanity. Gosling is, without question, one of the best actors of his generation and he has created an ICON here. There will be posters of Driver in dorm rooms for decades to come. It’s one of Gosling’s most internal and interesting performances. This is a man who listens more than speaks. The young actor championed the piece from the beginning and his dedication to it shows.
Gosling is ably matched by the stellar Albert Brooks, an actor who should be working more often and here gives his most memorable performance in two decades, possibly ever. Brooks clearly knows the Hollywood machine and has probably met a few Bernie Rose types in his day. And yet he NEVER chews the scenery like a lesser actor in a lesser film might have done. Casting him was a stroke of genius just for the different feel it gives “Drive” but Brooks proved that casting decision even smarter than I’m guessing Refn had hoped.
Brooks, Mulligan, Cranston, Perlman – they’re all effective – but “Drive” belongs to Ryan Gosling and Nicholas Winding Refn. You may not have heard of the young Danish director has announced his arrival with “Drive,” one of the most notable and memorable films of the last few years.