Drive is not what you might expect. Even if you’ve heard the buzz, and know of the misdirection involved, the film lands a sucker punch of a tonal twist that leaves you breathless, before the frenetic final act pacing robs you off the opportunity to catch your breath. But, Nicolas Winding Refn’s hip, masculine actioner is still utterly spell-binding.
Probable man of the year Ryan Gosling takes centre-stage as a stunt-driver, who moonlights as a getaway driver, existing job to job and off the radar, defined only by his relationship to what he does. I drive. This driver’s world is turned upside down when he befriends neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her son Benicio. That relationship, which is defined by something a little more than just friendship, is made problematic by Irene’s ex-con husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) who is granted early release, and immediately develops friction with The Driver. When he comes across Standard beaten up in the car park, he offers to help pull off the one last job to help the ex-criminal go straight, but things quickly go to hell in a handcart and the film’s tone shifts dramatically.
The film meets somewhere between Western and exploitation actioner, but Winding Refn’s approach isn’t quite so simple as that, and rather than simply offer a sub-Tarantino variant, he populates the film with lingering, artfully composed shots, very much in the indie vein. So when the switch comes, thanks to the indie feel and the manner in which Winding Refn offers the central relationship between The Driver and Irene, it is hugely effective.
Gosling is great as The Driver, getting a lot out of doing very little, and establishing a Steve McQueen level of cool. He says more with looks and gestures than with frivolous speech and he is able to convey strong chemistry between his character and Irene without having any more than a handful of lines with her. A lot of Gosling’s success is down to the way the character is shot: he is afforded a near iconic presence on screen, and there is no doubt that he is the hero of the piece. When he drives, the camera lovingly focuses on him, rather than where he is going, or even on the car: this is not a film about cars or even about driving generally – it is rather about the way one man feels while driving, and the affirmation of that simbiotic relationship.
The rest of the cast is great: Gosling and Mulligan are joined by Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, and, best of all, Albert Brooks, who should most certainly have picked up a Best Supporting Actor nod. He plays a local gangster and his imposing presence and brilliantly colorful temper are the perfect balance to Gosling’s understatement. Perlman is his counter-point, an overly-abrasive, crass henchman/high-ranking enforcer who answers to no one, except with profanity, and it is obvious that both actors had a lot of fun in their villainous roles.
All-in-all, Drive is a great advert for Winding Refn’s skill as a filmmaker: he effortlessly blends tender, subtle cinematography with a high-octane, gleefully reckless hyper-violence without tainting either extreme. Every faculty of the film is almost flawless, from the stunning soundtrack, to the central performances and the technical decisions, and it is undoubtedly an easily recommendable film.
Overall very, very impressive. There are very few flaws, and when they come they are minute in comparison to the shining general quality of the transfer. Colours and black levels are pristine, which adds to the organic realism of the image, and contrast is equally good, while textures and detail are strong even in the darkest scenes.
The audio transfer is similarly impressive: even when the music switches from lower levels to high intensity towards the end clarity remains the same , and sound effects from top end impact to lower, more background placement are given equal treatment. Dialogue is nicely clear and given appropriate precedence, which it had to be in a film that so sparsely uses actual speech. Overall, a very impressive transfer.
The disc features a number of not exactly ground-breaking featurettes, including a pick-of-the bunch feature with the director as he talks about the character and his thoughts on the film. There’s none of the usual filler material like Deleted Scenes or Outtakes, which aren’t really great misses, but no director’s commentary? Shame on you Winding Refn – I would have loved to here more specific in-depth and scene-specific analysis and insight from the director, alongside some of the cast.
- I Drive.
- Under the Hood.
- Driver and Irene.
- Cut to the Chase.
- Drive Without a Driver: Entretien Avec Nicolas Winding Refn.
- Previews: Additional Sony titles.
- UV Copy.