Drive: A Review

Drive – Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn; *ing: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac

The strong, violent type

‘It so happens I’m tired of being a man’, wrote Pablo Neruda, and one is reminded of these deceptively simple words while viewing Drive, a strangely effecting work from Danish-born, American-raised filmmaker Refn, in which the socio-cinematic elements of traditional male machismo, violence, and frailty, are examined and assaulted with equal amounts of sensitivity and relish. The film’s visual and aural aesthetic ostensibly pays homage to the 80s, but in actual fact is more of a throwback to the two decades previous, when the men of the movies threw off the John Wayne/Jimmy Stewart mould and explored darker, uncharted territory, as embodied by Paul Newman in and as Hud, and Clint Eastwood as the Man With No Name. But it is Steve McQueen’s brand of sexy-cool mysterious that is more the template here, especially in its etching of the title character, the enigmatic Driver (Gosling) – a man with no name, no past and no family, and seemingly devoid of emotion.

The Driver drives for money – by day as a stunt driver for the movies, and by night as the getaway driver for hoods and robbers. His approach to the implications of his work is phlegmatic: he has no moral outlook on or involvement in what he does, he just drives; to him, both are jobs that he’s paid to do and do well. And do them well he does. So well in fact that his boss/mentor Shannon (Cranston), a stock-car garage owner, negotiates with shady local financier Bernie Rose (Brooks) to help him set up a racing team with the Driver’s considerable skills at the helm. Things get complicated however, when the Driver develops an attachment to a troubled neighbor, Irene (Mulligan) and her young son, and ends up on the wrong side of both Rose and volatile would-be Mafioso Nino (Perlman). He’s more than capable of handling the bloody mayhem that will ensue, but is he willing to pay the cost?

It’s plain to see that Drive could very easily have been yet another in the line of the Fast & The Furious ilk of mindless, CGI-happy, studs-on-wheels actioners – making Refn’s offbeat directorial and stylistic choices all the more interesting, and arresting. He frames the film as elegant neo-noir, with atmospheric sound design and stunning cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel. He also takes great pains to ensure that the audience senses that the main character’s emotions may stay well below the surface, but that they run deep. The impossible duality of the Driver’s state of being is expressed most hauntingly in the much talked-about elevator scene near the end. I won’t give it away, but suffice to say it is at once one of the most sweetly erotic as well as unflinchingly brutal moments ever committed to film.

Refn’s cast of supporting players is uniformly excellent, but the film of course belongs to Gosling, easily the most charismatic actor of his generation. The Driver is a tricky part that, in the hands of a mere brooding pretty boy could have been laughable. But, lest we forget, Gosling is the same actor who made us believe that a grown man could fall in love with a sex doll (Lars & The Real Girl), and here he turns another barely believable character into one who is not only credible but pretty much unforgettable. You read it here: Gosling is the one to watch out for in days to come.

Cult – Bullitt (1968): Steve McQueen is the ultimate in cool screen cops and the film lays the blue-print for all future cinematic car chases.

Current – Crazy, Stupid Love: Ryan Gosling gives good comedy; his jaw-droppingly perfect abs cause Emma Stone to exclaim, “Seriously?! It’s like you’re Photoshopped!”

Coming Attraction – The Great Gatsby (2012): Baz Luhrmann’s take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of the enigmatic millionaire; Carey Mulligan stars as Daisy Buchanan to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby.

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