Let’s get this out of the way right now: Drive is the most stylish and artistic film I’ve seen all year, and I can’t wait to have a chance to experience this film for a second time.
Ryan Gosling stars as a part-time mechanic and Hollywood stunt driver, who also moonlights as a wheelman for armed heists. He plays by a very simple set of rules: give him the starting point, the destination, and a five minute window, and he’s your man. When Driver meets Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son Benicio, the three quickly become inseparable. Irene’s husband is in jail, and her loneliness draws her to the quiet, enigmatic Driver, who maintains a level of chivalry and respect for Irene and her situation that is unheard of in most modern films. The romance that slowly begins to develop is chaste and innocent, based more on the need for companionship than on carnal desire, and is just one of many brilliant decisions made by the director.
After Irene’s husband, Standard, is released from jail, Driver finds him beaten to a pulp in the parking garage of his building. Turns out that Standard’s old debts have come back to haunt him, and Irene and Benicio may be forced to suffer the consequences for his decisions. Out of concern for his surrogate family, Driver reluctantly offers to drive for Standard during a planned pawn shop robbery which should wipe his debt clean and ensure the safety of Irene and her son. At this point, everything starts to go horribly wrong, and the film explodes in a shocking display of violence as the quiet, mild-mannered Driver transforms into a seething mass of pure rage.
In any other film, the role of Driver could easily have been one-dimensional, but Gosling manages to craft a fascinating, complex character. His brooding silence channels the best of Clint Eastwood, right down to the cold stare and calculated speech, and his presence is nothing short of captivating, particularly in his scenes with Carey Mulligan, which showcase just how much can be conveyed by nothing more than a look or a touch. The supporting roles are elevated by the phenomenal cast, including Bryan Cranston and Ron Pearlman, but it’s Albert Brooks that truly steals the show as a short-tempered, ruthless mob boss.
Nicholas Winding Refn makes some bold choices with Drive, and the bulk of the movie has a very 80s flair, right down to the neon lights and pounding synth-rock score. In the hands of any other director, Drive would have been an enjoyable-but-flawed action flick, but Refn manages to bring a sort of poetry to the film, displaying a degree of artistry that is sorely lacking in many of today’s popular films. Believe me when I say that the Best Director award bestowed upon him at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is well-deserved.
While the nearly-mute protagonist, deliberate pacing and blatant stylistic choices of Drive may not be everyone’s cup of tea, moviegoers looking for something that stands apart from the usual Hollywood schlock will find plenty to enjoy here. Gosling turns in a superb performance for a director that is well on the way to mastering the craft, and the results are nothing short of astounding.