Release date: September 16th, 2011
Running time: 100 minutes
Written by: Hossein Amini
Based on: The novel “Drive” by James Sallis
Directed by: Nicholas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, and Bryan Cranston
The story is simple. Ryan Gosling plays an unnamed getaway driver who also works as a stunt car driver and at a local garage. “The Driver” has a strict code for his work. He waits five minutes, no more. He doesn’t help with the job and he won’t work with you again. He’s a driver, he drives. “The Driver” works for Shannon (Bryan Cranston), who gets “the Driver” various criminal jobs throughout the city. Early on in the film, “the Driver” develops an intimate relationship with his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benecio (Kaden Leos). Irene’s husband (Oscar Isaac) has just completed a sentence in jail, and when released, he entangles “the Driver” within a complex web of crime. Other actors play prominent roles such as Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, and James Biberi.
Despite the simplicity of the story, the script is very well crafted. The crime story is pretty interesting, and it is enjoyable to watch the relationship between “the Driver”, Irene, and Benecio unfold. There is minimal dialogue in the film, characters only speak when necessary. Some may be bored by the lack of dialogue, but personally, I couldn’t have been happier. So many films have so much unnecessary dialogue that more often than not just points out the obvious. Drive trusts that it’s audience can figure out what’s going on without the characters constantly explaining everything. When characters do speak, the dialogue is good, but straight forward. Once again, this straight forward approach is not a problem, it’s actually very helpful given the film and it’s story.
Ryan Gosling is an excellent actor, but I feel he isn’t being given the proper respect for his performance as “the Driver”. I think the main reason is that his role isn’t a “showy” one. He doesn’t have lots of dialogue and he does seem, at first glance, like a simplistic character. His character is very reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s”Man With No Name.” His character is something of an enigma. We don’t know too much about him. He’s a silent badass who wanders through and changes things for everyone. As the film progresses, you begin to see the darker side of “the Driver.” These moments are incredible and Gosling plays them to perfection. Gosling’s name better be considered when award season starts. It’s also interesting to note that Gosling speaks less than 20 sentences in the film, yet leaves an unforgettable impression.
The supporting cast is also very impressive. Bryan Cranston is very good as Shannon. He’s very likable and you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Carey Mulligan is also very good as Irene, “the Driver’s” love interest. Like Gosling, Mulligan has to rely mostly on body language and facial expression, which she pulls of quite well. Of course it’s the criminals who really stand out. Albert Brooks plays the sophisticated crime lord Bernie Rose. He’s very charming and likable, but also very threatening. In all honesty it’s hard to take your eyes off him. Ron Perlman plays Bernie’s partner Nino. While Perlman doesn’t quite hold up to Brooks, he’s still very good and threatening in his own way. The entire cast does a very good job though. All of the characters are interesting in their own ways.
But the real star of the film is director Nicholas Winding Refn. Refn took the script and turned it into a director’s playground. Drive is a very stylish film with a fine handle on tone and atmosphere. Refn also paces the film in a smart way. The first half is slow, but it introduces you to the characters, as you invested in their lives, and the story begins to progress. This means that in the second half when s*** hits the fan, there audience has genuine attachment to the characters. Some may find the first half overly slow. Admittedly most of the first half is about the relationship between “the Driver”, Irene, and Benecio. But I loved these scenes. The juxtaposition between the lighter scenes and the darker story turns later on gives the film a big boost.
The film is even very successful on a technical level. The cinematography is gorgeous. The film has a very gritty look and the camera movements are really impressive, especially during the action scenes. I also loved the score by Cliff Martinez, who scored Contagion earlier this year. The film also makes good use of source music, particularly the song “A Real Hero” by College. The editing is also quite good. I’ve already mentioned the tight pacing, but scenes are also cut together in a way that really amps up the tension.
Those expecting action beats minute to minute may be disappointed. Drive sets out to be a good film first, and a good action film second. That said, the action in the film is spectacular. Scenes that jump to mind include a violent confrontation in an elevator and a bloody shoot-out. And of course, with a name like Drive, the car chases are all great. The first car chase I found especially impressive. Mainly because it wasn’t just about speed, but also about suspense. It’s also fun to watch character’s have to rely on their brains during a chase instead of just trying to go the fastest.
Film critic Xan Brooks of the Guardian described Drive as his guilty pleasure at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. While I appreciate what Xan is trying to say, I don’t like his use of the term “guilty pleasure,” implying that Drive is an enjoyable film, but not a good one. But Drive is a good film. In fact, Drive is an excellent film. Nicholas Winding Refn took a simple story and proved that execution is everything. I adore every second of this film, easily among the best of the year.