20 September 2011

Movie Review: Drive


2011, 100mins, 18
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer: Hossein Amini
Cast includes: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac
UK Release Date: 23rd September 2011

“Drive” premiered several months ago at the Cannes film festival, and has been picking up steam ever since. Director Nicolas Winding Refn (“Valhalla Rising”) was awarded the coveted “best director” gong at the event, whilst the film itself just narrowly missed out on the Palme d’Or. After viewing “Drive” it becomes easy to understand why the picture made such a fierce impression. A delicate merging of arty silence and Hollywood noir, “Drive” is a subtle and supremely tense endeavour. Beautifully filmed by Winding Refn (who thoroughly deserved his big moment at Cannes), the movie is a pleasure to behold, thanks in no small part to a restrained yet incredible central turn from Ryan Gosling.

Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a stuntman by day and a getaway maestro by night. Driver excels at aiding criminals in their petty jobs, his cool head and skill behind the wheel making him the ideal accomplice. It transpires that his boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) has managed to broker a deal with some gangsters that will allow Driver to race cars for a living, but instead the sullen motorist is more interested in his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos), forming a unique connection with this fragmented family unit. When Benicio’s father Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns from prison, he is initially suspicious of Driver, but soon turns to him for help. Standard owes a hefty amount of protection money, and has been ordered to rob a pawn shop so he can square his debts. Driver agrees to partake in the raid, chiefly to ensure Irene and Benicio’s safety, but things don’t go to plan. Standard and Driver are double crossed, leaving the latter in a web of violence and reckless evil.

Refn opens “Drive” with a phenomenally suspenseful yet refreshingly quiet chase sequence, detailing wonderfully the precision and intensity that define the feature’s central character. It’s an immersive scene from start to finish, setting up the required tone beautifully. “Drive” may involve shootouts and fast cars, but it remains a very restrained film, more reliant on its oddball soundtrack than chaotic sound design or ear shredding explosions. Refn cultivates a mood of intrigue and uncertainty, rifling through Hossein Amini’s screenplay stylishly and economically. “Drive” is a tight and highly atmospheric watch, primed with far more personality than the usual faceless multiplex fodder.

The performances are solid, with the exception being Gosling’s standout contribution. Even whilst doing very little, the actor expresses a lot, forming Driver into a monosyllabic yet complex screen entity. The film envisions Driver as an antihero from the beginning, contrasting his participation in criminal deeds with the ever warming dynamic he shares alongside Irene and Benicio. It’s a superb bit of work, understated but unquestionably meaty. Don’t be surprised if Gosling’s name echoes around Hollywood during the forthcoming Oscar season. Carey Mulligan is nearly as removed as Gosling, but still manages to permeate a lovable and sympathetic essence. Oscar Isaac and Christina Hendricks (portraying an associate of Standard’s) barely grace the picture, unfortunate given that both performers have respectable reputations. On the other hand screen veterans Brooks, Cranston and Ron Perlman (Brooks' partner in indecent behaviour) all deliver strong and memorable turns. “Drive” generally utilizes its eclectic cast well, adding extra vibrancy to Refn’s already stunningly photographed version of Los Angeles.

“Drive” doesn’t actually offer a vast amount of traditional motorway carnage, but what’s on show is still very cool. Refn shoots the action slickly and coherently, focusing on the fantastic stunts instead of soulless digital insertions. During its opening act “Drive” doesn’t offer much to offend beyond some fruity language, but the second half is a veritable bloodbath. Heads are blown apart, throats are slit and hammers are wielded in a worrisome fashion, lending “Drive” some serious edge beyond its sporadic instances of road rage. The sensitive are to be advised that Refn doesn’t hold back on the viscera and gore, in fact, by the end he aggressively revels in it. Of course it’s all just surface level coating for this moody noir, but potential audience members should be made aware of it before committing to the movie. “Drive” gets pretty brutal in parts.

Compared to Refn’s previous directorial venture “Valhalla Rising”, “Drive” is a breath of fresh air."Valhalla Rising”, whilst nobly assembled and picturesque, was a slog to get through, something that “Drive” could never be accused of during its skillfully structured 100 minutes. “Drive” is a brilliant film and a must-see for those in support of thrilling yet meditative cinematic product.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011


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