Who’s gonna drive you home?
Having missed seeing Drive at the cinema in 2011, I finally caught up with it this week on Blu Ray. Topping a few best of year lists and gaining a lot of love online, the omens for this were good. That is not always a good thing as expectations can lead to disappointment. In some cases the film is spoiled for the viewer as the product on-screen is not what they were expecting. With a quote on the poster of “A blood pumping thrill ride of a movie” you might expect a certain kind of film. A Fast and Furious type action flick springs to mind. If that what you’re looking for then indeed you aint gonna love this film. On the other hand if you know of the previous work of the director, Nicolas Winding Refn, then Drive is an intriguing prospect.
Refn is a Danish director whose reputation has been growing since his first feature, Pusher from 1996. The success and reputation gained lead to two equally intense sequels. His first English language film Bronson (2008) cemented his reputation as a visionary director. He quickly followed this up with Valhalla Rising in 2009, a film that divided critics and audiences due to the lack of dialogue and story coupled with extreme violence from a one-eyed Norse warrior. I have watched it twice now and I am still puzzled by parts of it. Having been sought out by Ryan Gosling, Drive marks Refn’s first ‘American’ film in nearly ten years.
The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a part time stunt car driver for Hollywood movies and a car mechanic. Occasionally he offers his services as a getaway driver. The film opens with a robbery taking place. The driver’s rules are simple. For the job he is yours. He will wait for five minutes while the job goes down. Any more and he is off. He never carries a gun. This is his code. It is how he survives. The driver leads a solitary existence going from one day to another, very much alone. Into this comes a new next door neighbour(Carey Mulligan) and son. He helps them out when their car breaks down and starts to hang out with them, getting to know the son and getting closer to the mother. At the same time his boss (Bryan Cranston) at the garage is trying to get into car racing with the Driver, or the Kid as he calls him. This leads to a deal with a pair of local gangsters(Albert Brooks & Ron Perlman) financing the car. These are some very serious people to get involved with. A complication arises when the neighbour’s husband arrives having been just released from prison. He owes people money and has been instructed to rob a pawn shop to pay off his debt. The driver offers to help..
This is a tour de force performance from Ryan Gosling. There is not much in the way of dialogue for the main character. He is very buttoned down. Every word uttered is measured, nothing wasted. Most of the performance is in non verbal communication. When other characters engage his face is blank making him difficult to read. There is no small talk. He is all business. Carey Mulligan is her usual brilliant self. Every film I have seen her in to date has produced a memorable performance. Following Ryan Gosling’s lead her performance is restrained with some much conveyed by a glance or a smile. The high-profile acting goes on to the supporting cast with Albert Brooks superb as one of the local gangsters. Apparently he persuaded the director that he was perfect for the part as he wasn’t the safe choice.
This is a film of two very distinct halves. The first half is slow and deliberate without being boring or plodding. The story unfolds before us in images and mood more than exposition. You never really get a back story for the Driver other than from his boss. He never offers anything on his own. The look of the film is all dark and neon. The driving sequences are all shot from the interior of the car, in profile or behind the driver. There is then a dramatic shift in the second half where you get a flavour of the drivers past. Without going into detail and spoiler territory there are scenes of swift very graphic violence. Not for the squeamish, that’s all I will say. Having seen previous Winding Refn films the level of violence was not a surprise. It still delivers a shock.
The soundtrack totally compliments the overall feel of the film. A review of the soundtrack will appear on Moviescramble very soon.
Overall a stylish, highly enjoyable film. It is certainly not a case of style over substance. Thoroughly recommended.