It’s not often a film completely blows me away but Drive managed the rare feat of doing just that. I went in with fairly high expectations being a big fan of director Nicolas Winding Refn. Refn’s film not only met my expectations but totally exceeded them. Film awards are something that don’t really interest me but I can see why Drive took out the prize for Best Director at Cannes and the film is definitely deserving of such an accolade. Tense, well acted, entertaining and a visual feast for the eyes, Drive has given the action/crime genre a new lease on life.
Drive is the tale of a nameless stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as a getaway driver by night. The driver befriends his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos). Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns after a stint in prison and is forced into committing an armed robbery of a pawn shop. Once the driver discovers the thugs have been threatening Irene and Benicio he offers his services as a getaway driver. The robbery doesn’t go to plan and the driver is thrown right into the chaos of the aftermath. Fairly familiar story right? In fact Drive’s story is almost so familiar that a lesser director would’ve turned this into a forgettable film that slipped under everyone’s radar. Stunning cinematography throughout with some nice touches like the opening chase scene being shot only from inside the car. Gosling gives a solid performance (reminiscent of 70s era Eastwood or Steve Mcqueen) as does the rest of the cast. Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston was a highlight for me and Ron Perlman played the unlikable character of Nino with glee.
It was interesting how Refn handled the primarily American genre. Drive combines Refn’s hard hitting raw aesthetic of his Pusher Trilogy with elements of the gritty modern noir vehicles produced in the US during the late 70s and early 80s. If you’re a fan of Walter Hill or Michael Mann’s early work you’ll be right at home with this one. It is of course easy to compare this film to Hill’s 1978 masterpiece The Driver especially with their similar storylines, characters and rapid fire intense pacing. Drive also tips its hat to Mann’s best flick Thief especially in its cinematography and choice of soundtrack. Like Thief and The Driver, the film tastefully mixes elements of past and present melding them into a stylish reinvention. Thankfully Refn doesn’t lay a tired self reflexive “homage” on us and Drive stands on its own as a film that is aware of genre history refining its elements for the modern era.
For me this is something that’s been long overdue as the usual action fare these days is just hollow and lacking substance. Flashy, big budget and disposable sums it up. Big explosions, car crashes but zero characterization and nothing engaging. Night of the Juggler, The Driver and Thief are fine examples of the gritty, hard-nosed character driven American action films that just aren’t made these days. The subtly of these films made the action and violence – when it did happen – more explosive and hard hitting unlike the wall to wall overload of The Transporter and its ilk. These flicks had a more authentic realism about them and thematically were a lot darker. I think Drive is a film that has really raised the bar and we’ll see its influence in a lot of upcoming films just like the post-Pulp Fiction releases during the 90s.
Drive is a visually impressive and captivating film that will appeal to quite a broad audience; there’s enough action, tension and splatter to keep those after visceral thrills happy. Drive is also exquisitely shot and is a very different film from the the usual action and crime fare which will appeal to the art-house crowd. Most importantly it’s a damn entertaining film with a great cast.
Easily one of the year’s best films for me and in my opinion Nicolas Winding Refn’s best work to date. Drive is destined to become a cult classic and is a welcome return of the dark and gritty American crime film. Essential viewing.