Notable Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks
Review: Seen any of Nicolas Winding Refn’s other work? If you have, you’ll know what to expect from the highly stylized and genre bending thriller Drive. Refn’s other big film Bronson showcased his off-beat style and unique film structure, which were running rampant all throughout Drive. If you have no idea who Refn is, expect a one of a kind viewing experience not many other directors can deliver. That said, not everyone is going to fall in love with Drive as most critics have. Those expecting a speedy, adrenaline-pumping race to the finish will be left in the dust as Drive idles slowly through the story. Drive is no Drive Angry, focusing more on trying to build a thriller out of story and set ups; not guns and boobs. Drive decides to take the slow lane instead of the fast, and strips down all the fancy features for a much simpler model than expected. Portions of the film will make you feel as if you’re flying down the Autobahn, but the rest just feels like cruise control.
Based off the novel of the same name, Drive focuses on a young Hollywood stuntman (Gosling) who doubles as a wheelman in his spare time. As he grows close to a young mother named Irene (Mulligan) who lives next door with her son, their time is cut short when her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns home from prison. The trouble is, Irene’s husband is still being followed by trouble, and is threatened by gangsters to repay a debt he accumulated in jail. Caring only about protecting Irene and the young Benicio (Kaden Leos), our driver puts his dreams of being a pro racer on hold to help Standard get his family out of harm’s way. Too bad the whole job is a set up, and helping Irene could be the most costly favor of his entire life. Not only does he get mixed up with local mob boss Nino (Perlman), but those close to him are also put in grave danger. It’s up to Gosling’s character to find a way out of his botched job, for the sake of all those around him.
For a movie titled Drive, there’s a surprising lack of driving…
Right off the bat, Drive opts for the more artsier delivery to the normal action/thriller style. A bulk of the script uses a minimalistic approach to dialogue, as our characters stare intently at each other for extended periods of time, a device overused in the beginning of the film. Some are going to find the first act of Drive to be long, drawn out, and extremely boring as the love relationship is established between Gosling’s Driver character and the Mulligan played Irene. Refen chooses to depict their growing bond using raw emotion, wanting us to see the connection with our eyes. If done right this is a beautifully powerful tactic, but too frequently Gosling’s mute character was just taking up space on-screen. Gosling himself barely gets a page full of lines, even though he’s the most prominent character in the film. It’s hard to gain insight into a character’s thoughts when they aren’t expressing them verbally, and there is a small need for some to hear those important key lines, as clichéd as they may be. A film like Drive is completely off putting by the amount of artistic prowess and unconventional methods to some, and those not caring about story should get their non-stop rush somewhere else.
That said, I think Refn designed this movie with a lot of creativity, despite the lurching pace at times. Refn establishes craftily the 80’s nostalgia theme along with original music by Cliff Martinez to set the mood with those iconic synth riffs that bring us to back to the time of “Miami Vice” and other period depictions of the sort. This also helped to carry what almost seemed like a giant relationship montage that took the first about 30 minutes. For the lack of action though, Refn is also able to deliver violence so brutal that in those few heightened moments we are transported to a completely different movie. Refn has this hyper realistic sense of violence, again seen first in the brilliant Bronson, which keeps us in the realm of the glorious insanity that is Refn’s visual depictions of said gratuitous violence. The fights aren’t long and drawn out, but short and effective. One second a character has their face, the next it’s gone. There aren’t many directors right now that can capture a small moment of intensity like Refn, and these scenes are like tiny shots of adrenaline straight to the heart Drive so sorely needed.
In front of the camera, Gosling does his best to channel an area of desperation and seriousness to go along with a character who is silent more than not. Moments do arise where Gosling was extremely impressive, especially during the strip club interrogation scene, but it can’t be said that Driver is his best work yet. The characters Perlman and Cranston play are exactly what you’d expect in terms of performance, and it’s Albert Brooks who steps outside the box for Refn. Normally a comedic actor, Brooks takes over the villain role in a surprisingly convincing way, as he left the biggest impression after the film was over. All around the cast for Drive was apt for their roles, but don’t expect any Best Actor/Actress wins come awards season.
Drive is a slow burn thriller that stresses uniqueness more than fun, as some might not expect. Refn is an exciting director in the way that Zack Snyder is; always trying to bring something new and different to the viewer. Drive is anything but an average watch, and for the reasons above is going to single viewers out. It’s no doubt Refn can create a film with style and charisma, but it’s for these same reasons Drive putters out at parts. It’s a good thing Refn is also fantastic at grabbing the viewer’s attention when need be, and manages to slap us right across the face when we first start to doubt him. If you have the patience, go along for the ride. But if you’re one of those who hate getting stuck behind the only person doing the speed limit in the fast lane, you might as well blas right pass this one.
Final Rating: 7 leather scorpion jackets out of 10
Gosling giving it his all…