Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers: Hossein Amini (screenplay), James Sallis (book)
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman
Studio: Film District
Since walking out of the Grand Lumière from seeing DRIVE, my mind has been racing. I’ve never watched a film and felt so conflicted on how I viewed it. I was battling myself, wanting to like this film but had some major issues with it. Did I love DRIVE? Did I hate it? Days after that theater exit, I could not get DRIVE out of my mind. DRIVE was driving me crazy. (Sorry - I’ll try to hit the brakes on the puns.)
As Pauline Kael discussed in her essay “Trash, Art, and the Movies,” all it takes is the smallest thing in a film for it to completely capture your heart. Something under the hood of DRIVE captured my heart; director Nicolas Winding Refn has admirably crafted a fine piece of retro-noir cinema.
Ryan Gosling is Driver, stuntman driver by day, getaway driver by night. Wherever his life ends up, driving must be in it. You will not catch him without his silver jacket with a large scorpion embroidered on the back - it’s his security blanket. He keeps to himself, having his employer Shannon (Bryan Cranston) handle all of his business deals. Driver’s life faces a head on collision when he falls for next door neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), whose husband just got out of jail on good behavior. Driver is a rarity when it comes to being a gentleman, wanting to help a woman and her family to safety - including the jealous husband - rather than tangle himself in a love triangle.
Shannon sees a lot of potential and money in Driver and convinces local mob boss Bernie Rose (a brilliant and vicious Albert Brooks) to loan him money to build the perfect stock car. Bernie’s ethnically-confused associate Nino (Ron Perlman) doesn’t want anything to do with this - he hates Shannon.
Driver is a lonely cowboy - a silent warrior. He doesn’t have to say a word and you know exactly what he’s thinking. In order to make this movie work, you need an actor who can speak in high volume without saying anything. Gosling has really turned almost every performance he’s done in the last five years into award nominated roles. There’s a reason for this: Gosling is marvelous to watch on screen. He’s charming, tough, and smart.
In BRONSON, Refn created poetic violence. With rich colors and a riveting theatre-like appearance, our scene of violence becomes beautiful. He brings that same vision to DRIVE in one very memorable scene which I do not want to spoil but do want to address - this scene alone is the reason why we go to see movies.
Along with the scenes that will stick with me each time I talk about this film, Refn’s choice of music will always repeat in my head when I think of DRIVE. Using an ’80s keyboard pop influenced score by Cliff Martinez and electronic music by various artists, the music sets the tone and feeling for every scene its used in. When the beats calmly bump in the opening scene of the movie, don’t be surprised if you notice your feet quietly tapping along with them.
What’s upsetting about DRIVE is the flimsy character development for a few of our key roles. Driver’s love interest, Irene (Carey Mulligan), can be missed with a blink of an eye. Mulligan has proved at her young age she can lead a film to Oscar nominations, so being a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her secondary character is a bit disappointing; I would have liked to see more of Irene. Perlman’s Nino doesn’t know if he wants to be taken serious or as a joke; as big and bad as we have seen Perlman in films like HELLBOY, ALIEN: RESURRECTION, and BLADE 2, seeing him overplay the stereotypical idiot gangster is slightly off-putting.
What we know about Brooks’s Bernie is that he is a cruel man and will sacrifice anything and anyone threatening his name and empire. His scenes as this ruthless gangster are so terrifying and impressive that his screen time is satisfying enough. Brooks is mostly known as a comedian - a funny man whose characters always wind up in funny situations. Here he steps away from that typical character and mops the floor with most mob bosses we’ve seen on screen.
I must address that I have not read the book (of the same name) this film was adapted from, so my nitpicks could possibly be dismissed if Refn built our characters based on how the book reads them. As you read this review, you see the reasons why I want to keep revisiting this film and the racetrack I call “excellent filmmaking” it keeps driving on.