Sam: Drive is a breath of fresh air, constantly exhaling mediocrity and inhaling extraordinary. It’s a film that surpasses standards and limitations of modern day cinema. The characters are real people, with sincere emotions. Yes, the picture has its idiosyncrasies and flaws. But within its mishap, comes humanity. Nicolas Winding Refn is an auteur among directors – and with Drive he has crafted a mystifying and stunning masterpiece.
The man without a name quickly evokes mystery. Our protagonist, played by the excellent Ryan Gosling, is simply referred to as Driver. After all, that’s exactly what he is. During the day he’s part time mechanic/part time Hollywood stunt man and at night he moonlights as a getaway guy for thieves, low lives, degenerates. It doesn’t matter whom he works for though, because as Goslings’ dark, soft-spoken character says, “I just drive.”
At first it appears Driver has no feelings or inner conflicts with himself. This stoic persona, adopted by Gosling indisputable talents, guides the film down its long and winding road. Though, like everyone at point in life, Driver meets his match – a true test to his seemingly emotionless personality: Irene (Carey Mulligan) a kind woman who just moved in next door with her kid and a husband soon to be released from prison.
For the first time in Driver’s life he found reason for existence. Irene and him hit it off almost instantaneously. The whole romance though is put on hold once Standard (the husband of Irene played by Oscar Isaac) arrives back home. From that moment forward Drive morphs from slow-burning action flick into an intense, engrossing bloodbath.
Standard creates a million dollar heist plan in order to payoff his countless debts from prison. Driver agrees (in the benefit of Irene and her child, Benecio) to assist by doing what he does best: drive. However, the plan goes terribly wrong – mainly because of people with hidden agendas. What ensues after the botched robbery is the motor of our story – thriving on negligence and each characters faulty conscience.
The film is a culmination of ultra violence and unique artistry. Refn, a Danish household name who’s praised for films like Bronsonand The Punisher Series, takes his first crack in American filmmaking. Thankfully, he doesn’t slip into the formulaic nonsense Hollywood consistently churns out week after week, and stays honest to his own ideas and depictions.
With a plethora of talented performers – including two greats Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman (two gangsters who seek demise for Driver), superb supporting roles from Bryan Cranston and Carrey Mulligan – it is Ryan Gosling who stands above the pack. His heartbreaking performance in last years brilliant Blue Valentine, was just the beginning. Here Gosling excels beyond any parameters, only time will tell where this tremendous actor goes.
Drive is a tour-de-force of storytelling, occasionally explicit but often dramatically subtle and moving. It’s hauntingly beautiful portrait of a man finally coming to terms with himself, testing out his sentiment, and driving until he finds his way. Often reminiscent of Bullitt (particularly in the calm, yet riveting chase sequences) while simultaneously containing this 80’s slickness, with its mesmerizing score (by Cliff Martinez) and retroactive flare, Refn has constructed one unique endeavor.
This will be undoubtedly one of the most polarizing films of the year. Consensus is likely to find shortcomings in its rather slow opening 40-minutes and its sheer excess of brutality. I loved every minute of it, though. Part film noir, part sleek retro action-thriller, Drive is, as a whole, a masterpiece.
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Castor: Arriving in movie theaters today is Nicholas Winding Refn’s stylish and moody film noir Drive. It’s a movie buzzing with huge acclaim from its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and I’m ecstatic to say that it fulfills its sky-high expectations in every single way. While the trailer may suggest that this could be your familiar, one-note Hollywood car chase action-thriller, do not be fooled. Drive is a staggeringly quiet and visceral work of art, masterfully weaving the fascinating character study of a flawed hero with heart-pounding thrills, and aching romance.
Ryan Gosling stars as the unnamed protagonist (credited as “Driver”), a mechanic and Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a hired getaway driver for criminals at night. Having to deal with shady characters on a constant basis, he is a stoic man of few words, emotionally detached and living a peculiar and very lonely life. But that gives way when he starts befriending and falling in love with beautiful neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a young mother whose husband (Oscar Isaac) is unexpectedly released from prison a few days later. As Driver tries to protect this family by helping the husband pull one last heist to settle some prison debts, things go terribly wrong and he is left with no choice but to go on a blood-lusting rampage to make sure that Irene and her young son will never be harmed.
Combining stylish direction, stunning cinematography, outstanding performances and an oddly perfect pop soundtrack, Drive is a moody and thoroughly hypnotizing follow-up to the director’s near silent 2009 film Valhalla Rising. In an era of frenetic quick-cutting and rapidly flowing dialogue, it’s refreshing to see a mainstream movie that is so deliberately paced and so remarkably quiet. Hossein Amini’s screenplay, adapted from James Sallis’ novel, features hardly any dialogue for long stretches of the story, giving the movie an eerie dream-like quality punctuated by short bursts of intense violence. In one of the film’s most unforgettable scene, Driver steals a lengthy, climactic, slow-motion kiss from Irene in an elevator before turning around and brutally stomping on the head of a villain standing next to him.
Refn gleams tension from every moment, his patience materializing as his camera routinely lingers on his actors, allowing them to use slow-burning silence, lengthy looks and quiet moments to magnify the nuance in all the characters. And it’s those fascinating characters populating this story who make Drive so compelling. Albert Brooks, most widely known for his comedic prowess, is shockingly menacing as the crime kingpin and casting him for the role was a daring and genial move by the director. Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston is excellent as a downtrodden fatherly figure for Driver while Oscar Isaac brings depth and vulnerability to Standard, a character that could so easily have been one-dimensional in a lesser film.
But ultimately, this is Gosling’s movie and he shines the brightest in a nearly dialogue-free performance. The gifted Canadian-born actor has always been at his best playing quietly tormented, highly romantic loners and this role certainly was a perfect fit for him. At times abnormally cool and emotionally vacant, Driver is also capable of tender affection and seething rage. You can almost tell that he never had any kind of close relationship with anyone before he met Irene. Subtly conveying a world of emotions through minimal delivery of dialogue and quiet body language, Gosling gives an intensely internal performance, one just as brilliant as his work in last year’s Blue Valentine. He shares good romantic chemistry in a nearly wordless and offbeat relationship with the wonderful Carey Mulligan, who is touching as Irene in a typically thin role.
Detractors will wonder why a movie called “Drive” has only a handful of car chases in it but don’t be mistaken, Nicholas Winding Refn’s film is a sleek gem, the anti-thesis of the frenetically edited, non-stop action flicks that Hollywood studios seem to put on the highest pedestal these days.
Drive has redefined the word “cool” and is easily one of the best movie of the year, striking just the right note between visceral entertainment and artistic ambitions. It’s a masterfully crafted film and in my view, an instant classic.
Notes: Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity, 100 minutes.