Adapted from Jame’s Sallis’s 2005 crime novel of the same name Drive was originally planned to be a big budget action flick staring Hugh Jackman, thank god that never happened. Several years later Ryan Gosling became attached to the project and sought out Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn to direct. I’d seen Refn’s last two film’s Bronson and Valhalla Rising and when it was announced he would be taking on the project I knew Drive was a film that had to be seen. For those who aren’t familiar with Refn’s work I can definitely tell you that he’s one to watch. Debuting in the mid 90s with the Pusher crime/thriller trilogy, Refn has already made his mark with some excellent moody films well complimented by inventive cinematography, chilling electronic scores, and subtle yet spectacular performances from his actors. Drive is all those things and maybe more as Refn’s mainstream debut, though there’s nothing mainstream about the contents of this dramatic thriller.
Drive is simple enough on the surface, Ryan Gosling plays a no-named stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver for heists. He has little to look forward to in his life but driving until he meets and falls for his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) living with her son while her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) finishes up a prison sentence. Upon Standard’s release he’s introduced to the Driver and rather than feeling threatened he befriends the solemn wheelman. Way over his head in gang related debt, the Driver agrees to help Standard in a heist. Meanwhile the Driver has made dealings organized by his friend and co-worker at a garage Shannon (Bryan Cranston) to race for Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) a shady film producer surrounded by equally shady individuals such as Jewish gangster Nino (Ron Perlman). The heist eventually goes down but takes a dark turn when Standard is shot dead. Soon after the Driver discovers that Nino was somehow involved with the heist and sends men after the Driver to get the money. It gets a bit messy here there with the story, but with this film it’s more about the ride than the little details.
In any other hands Drive could have been a very ordinary action thriller, but with Refn it’s become a very unusual, extraordinary experience. The 80s synth cues are all pitch perfect as Goslin cruises through the dark neo noir-like setting of late night L.A. The violence and action sequences make your skin crawl and keep you teetering on the edge of your seat. The performances are subtle but impressive with Albert Brooks giving my favorite performance. Known in the past for his cynical yet comical L.A. comedian persona this is an Albert Brooks we’ve never seen before. Gosling plays it simple much in the way Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood would handle a tough guy role. Gosling spends most of his time giving off intense looks that say more than any words could. Carey Mulligan as one of the premier young actresses today brings a lot to character that may seem underwritten but really has a lot brewing under the surface.
The bottom line is that Drive is a brooding and refreshingly unconventional thriller from a group of very talented people. Gosling has more or less proven himself as one the most interesting leading men working today and director Nicolas Winding Refn has shown that he can still keep his artistic integrity with a widely released film, it’s an exciting time for the movies.
P.S. If you liked this movie you have to check out Refn’s film Bronson (currently on Netflix Instant Watch) it’s really something.