Drive follows the Driver in the film (Ryan Gosling) as he moves between his day job as a Hollywood stuntman, and his nights as a for-hire getaway driver. An opportunity arises for wealthy, crooked businessmen (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman) to back Gosling’s driving talents in an upcoming car race. Simultaneously, Gosling befriends a young woman (Carey Mulligan) and her son, who live down the hall from him. The sexual tension reaches its boiling point when Mulligan’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns home from a stint in prison. Gosling slides easily into the role of thankless hero as he volunteers to help Standard pay back a debt he cannot get out of by helping him complete one last “job.” From there, the seemingly unrelated plots intersect, and Gosling pieces together his fate as the story unfolds.
Lively synth-pop illuminates the film’s brighter moments, while composer Cliff Martinez’s score compliments the darker, tension-filled scenes. This odd-couple pairing works together and sets this thriller apart from others that stand by a predictable soundtrack. The song choice is almost impeccable with one selection that feels a bit too on-the-nose for such a delicately compiled film, but, at the same time, the sound editing is perfect. Even in the trailer, Gosling’s leather gloves crackle with pronounced precision as he re-grips his getaway car’s steering wheel. Later on in the film, razor-sharp gun blasts and screeching cars contrast with other silent, slow motion sequences. The resulting implication: somehow, this picture has struck a balance between art house film and mainstream thriller.
The nuanced nature in Drive extends to the actors’ performances. Gosling’s character says very little, as does his counterpart (Mulligan). Their emotion, and bond, is explained in their looks. Gosling convincingly plays a damaged man with the potential to be equal parts gentle and brutal. Mulligan has the subtle hint of sadness in her eyes throughout the film, a nod to a past life that Gosling will never be privy to. Meanwhile, Bryan Cranston is spot on as an auto-mechanic and friend trying to manage Gosling’s fledging racing career, and Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) is refreshing to watch as a sultry supporting character. Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks also give solid performances as the businessmen with dirty hands… but more on that in a moment.
The film is mostly told from the first person vantage point of the Driver with a few third person scenes, but the film feels remarkably close to Gosling’s character. The cast of characters revolves around the Driver’s perception of them. Because of this, a couple scenes sans Gosling feel off in comparison to the rest of the film. And, not all of the performances in this film are created equal, with some supporting roles hitting a couple stale notes throughout. Overall, the plot is simple but effective, and there is so much to take in, the off beats can be excused. Drive could become a modern classic, but it doesn’t quite hold up to the best of the best from decades past.
I was lucky to see Director Nicolas Winding Refn speak a year ago at the Visionfest Shorts Film Festival. Refn, a tall, awkward man with hilarious deadpan wit, spoke to the floor more than to the audience. Between wry jokes, a few mumbled lines of inspiration snuck out. I remember walking away from his speech feeling very excited, excited about working in the entertainment business and excited about being a storyteller. Refn seems to be a rejuvenating shot in the arm for Hollywood. He is not a self-righteous moviemaker who is all talk and no substance. He is just the opposite. He’ll joke with his audience all day, but he’s not going to give away all his good stuff up front. He has his lifetime to show us what he’s got, and Drive is an exquisite addition to his body of work, an addition that fills a desperate need in Hollywood.
Drive is scheduled to come out in September. Don’t miss it!