Drive ★★★★★

Director - Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer - Hossein Amini
Cast - Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks


I found it quite difficult to know where to begin with this review and so, like all people who are struggling with an introduction, I thought I’d start by telling you how difficult I found it to write the introduction. I know. I’m so meta! The reason for my temporary writer’s block tells you all you need to know about this film though. Drive is such a wonderful piece of cinema that I simply didn’t where to begin. It’s so rare that you find a film in which every single element of it is praiseworthy, yet when it comes to Drive I simply have nothing negative to say. Forget the tightly-woven story, the credible yet dangerous characters and the gorgeous soundtrack for a minute and just focus on the little details. Everything about it works, from the costuming to the choreography, heck even the font face that is used in the opening credits is absolutely spot-on! Even if you’re not a fan of the film, you surely can’t deny that it is the result of a serious labour of love from all involved.

Drive tells the story of an unnamed getaway and stunt driver (Gosling), who also works part time as a mechanic in a garage owned by his boss-cum-friend Shannon (Cranston). When we first meet the driver, before the opening credits have even rolled, he is working on a getaway. His rules for his getaway work are simple; he’ll never work for the same people twice and they only have five minutes to complete their robbery. If they aren’t back in the car within five minutes, he will leave without them. He never gets involved in the robbery and he never carries a weapon. In this five minute sequence, we learn everything we need to know about him. He is efficient, he is reliable and he is excellent at his job. From this point on, the film follows the Driver over an undetermined period of time as he falls in love, gets embroiled in a situation over which he has little control, and looks set to lose everything. He becomes close to his neighbour Irene (Mulligan), only for her husband (Standard, played by Isaac) to return from jail and get back together with her. Whilst in prison, Standard owed protection money to a gang of criminals run by Nino (Perlman), a man whose business partner, Bernie (Brooks), has recently had contact with the Driver in regards to a racing job. Determined to protect Irene and her son, the Driver agrees to help Standard pay off his debts, only to find himself caught up on the wrong side of Bernie. It’s part-noir, part-gangster and part-thriller, a combination that works spectacularly.

It’s tough to pinpoint who the real star of this film is because everyone is so damn good. Gosling oozes charm as the Driver and delivers a performance that makes us trust and like him, despite his career choices. Despite the fact he doesn’t say much, we know everything we need to know about him. His bouts of violence and aggression all seem justified, and he reminded me a lot of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, albeit less unhinged. Carey Mulligan is a charming presence as the Driver’s love interest, Irene, delivering a reserved performance but one that highlights her character’s insecurities and shyness. The way she and Gosling bounce off each other is just a joy to watch and though their love story isn’t particularly heavy or well-fleshed, we feel a great tinge of sadness when they are forced to go their separate ways. Standard is an interesting rival for the Driver and Isaac’s performance is strong enough to make us like him, despite the fact we’re rooting for the Driver and Irene to be together. As far as the villains go, we don’t just have men who are dangerous but we have men with a background and a philosophy. Ron Perlman’s Nino is a complex and intriguing character that perhaps doesn’t get as much screen time as he deserves, and one whom we know we should fear from the moment we meet him.

I think, however, that it is Albert Brooks who steals the film. His portrayal of Bernie is astonishingly good and he brings an almost irresistible charm and sophistication to the villain. Whilst Nino is the more vicious and corruptible of the two, it is Bernie who brings an edge to film because he seems so reasonable and understanding. The best villains are always the most unpredictable and that is Bernie to a tee. You never know what he’s going to do and that’s what makes him so terrifying. The scene in which Bernie kills Shannon is a stunning piece of cinema, primarily because it shows the great reluctance on Bernie’s part. The way he cradles his friend and tells him “It’s done. There’s no pain, it’s over. It’s over” is so tender and effective that you almost forget just how vicious he is. The fact that it is Albert Brooks makes it all the more startling, as you just don’t expect such violence from him.

With regards to the screenplay, and the style of conversation, I really must disagree with those who say that it is too clunky or that it doesn’t flow. As far as I’m concerned, Amini (the writer) nails the manner in which ordinary people speak. The awkwardness and the lack of coherent dialogue between Irene and the Driver are both incredibly naturalistic and it makes their brief relationship all the more believable. We’re told that the Driver doesn’t speak much and that he is quite reserved, so it makes perfect sense for him to be reluctant to open up to Irene. The interactions between Bernie and Nino are great fun and the reluctant acceptance that the Driver has for Standard, and vice-versa, is expertly handled. Not a single line is wasted and, when nothing is being said, the visuals and the soundtrack tell you all that you need to know.

Above all of this, however, is the fact that Drive is so stylish. It’s an absolute joy to watch, with the combination of ultra-violence and the slick city setting and the stunning machinery providing a mesmerising juxtaposition that you just can’t find in many other films. The direction and the cinematography are stunning and, combined with the beautiful soundtrack, Drive is much more than just a film, it is a piece of pure art. Refn has managed to deliver a thrilling film with a tight and engaging story that uses its B-movie sensibilities to great artistic and creative effect. Strip away the dialogue and you’re left with ninety minutes of cinematic beauty.

Without a doubt, Drive is one of the best films of the century. It’s a complete travesty that it was ignored at last year’s Academy Awards. I look forward to seeing more of Refn’s work and, of course, to seeing more of Ryan Gosling… it’s safe to say though, if you haven’t seen Drive, you’re missing out on a masterpiece.

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