Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
A stunt driver (Gosling) with a mucho cool Scorpion design jacket, moonlights as a get-away driver and also works at a garage for dick pay (man likes to keep busy). He eventually misses a beat, follows his heart, takes the wrong gig for the right reasons and then suffers the consequences.
Initially DRIVE (based on James Sallis' 2005 novel) was to be directed by Neil Marshall and starring Hugh Jackman... yeah no shit. It was gonna be a blockbuster type of project. If that would have been the case, I am pretty sure I would have gotten a straight forward thriller; the one I'd expect when reading the plot line above. But the Gods of Cinema had something else in mind and struck that shit down, pulled Ryan Gosling into the mix (who has taken the art road instead of the cash path with his career... respect), who in turn got one of the most exciting directors of our time Nicolas Winding Refn on board. With both lads at the wheel; DRIVE wound up being anything but obvious. And that's what I so loved about it; it took the familiar, spun its wheels and did its own novel thing with it.
One of the film's key strengths in my opinion was that the dialogue was at a minimum, with Refn slyly using eclectic music, potent silences and his arresting imagery to convey information and emotion. Yes, milking the visual medium that cinema is at its core... till the last drop. Awesome! That knack was relevant as to its lead hero of Driver (he has no name) as well. The lad challenged Kurt Russell in SOLDIER as the hero with the less lines (I think he beats him). And damn was Gosling on top of his game! His haunted eyes, the smiles that would sometime surface and his body language spelled it all for me; hence putting out an hypnotic show fueled on the organic. Dude floored me! Same went for the rest of the performers. Word has it that Refn didn't cast actors by way of the regular process (auditions, reels); he had them meet him at his house instead to chit and motherf*cking chat. Well I guess that worked out swell cause the cast here was BEYOND solid! Carey "sad green eyes I got lost in" Mulligan made me fall in love with her character of Irene and the often unspoken chemistry she shared with Gosling melted the screen till it became goo. It was poignant and beautiful to say the least. On his end Albert Brooks was charismatic, hence very frightening when the time came while Ron Perlman had a blast with his angry Jewish gent, acting Italian role. It should be said that even the smaller characters were given further nuances. By the script yes; but also via the talent of "the great" Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac (who had what could have been a despicable role, but it didn't go down that way... very nice) and the lovely Christina Hendricks. They all owned it and helped layer what was an already “full” film.
On a visual standpoint Refn put out a mostly elegant looking picture that sometimes took the gritty highway. The man gunned out smooth push ins/travelings, a powerful use of slow motion, mood that evoked Michael Mann's old crime films (loved the Miami Vice like opening credits) and surreal lighting touches that screamed David Lynch at me. He also displayed an array of visceral artistic choices that upped the power of the picture. Like always giving us the “heist” sequences from the Driver's perspective, or inter-cutting two scenes that follow each other but doing so out of sequence or my favorite being time slowing down for a moment to shine i.e. for us to relish in it fully. It was those random brush strokes to the canvas throughout (among so many other things) that helped elevate the film far and above its familiar initial premise. And then there was the violence on hand which often brilliantly clashed with the polished look of the picture. When it got time to get dirty; it did so in a sucker punch fashion; now you're safe, now you just got your ass kicked by extreme violence. Art house became quasi Grindhouse... like that! No, LIKE THAT! Finally there was the love story; a Romeo and Juliet type of forbidden romance, at times conveyed in the same way they did in them 80's romantic flicks like Pretty in Pink; with a montage and a pop song about love booming about (in this case it was Under Your Spell by Desire and my fav, A Real Hero by College & Electric Youth). And you know what? With the wonderful work Gosling and Mulligan did together acting as its base; the ploy worked and the bits gelled effortlessly with the rest of the flick. Amazing!
Add to all that class; a handful of well shot and enthralling car chases, tension galore, a melancholic and dream-ish score by Cliff Martinez that drew from the 80's Crime Thriller synthesizer phase and at times from the Angelo Badalamenti well (I haven't seen a movie use music this well since...I can't remember) and a couple of heart wrenching moments that snapped my heart strings and you get a poetic, fairly existential and gleefully retro masterpiece. Any negatives? NO! I don't have one damn thing bad to say about this one. All love baby! All love! Drive was just that astounding. SEE IT!
NOTE: I was so overwhelmed by this movie that I had a hard time verbalizing this review. So forgive me if it doesn't give the movie justice. Sometimes art "is" and no words can really match its essence. Drive was one of them times for me.
We get bloody gun-shot wounds and at least 3 gore howlers that I won't spoil for you here. But trust me, they hit the spot!
T & A
We get countless and oh so lovely titties in a Strip Club back-room.
It's Driver (1978) meets Michael Mann by way of David Lynch! DRIVE had the initial premise of an action film, the visuals of an art film mixed in with a retro crime drama, the brutality of a Grindhouse party, the creative chess moves of an auteur piece and the heart of a classic like Romeo and Juliet if shot in the 80's. It used music to its advantage like no other has in a long time and all of its elements came together gracefully to make one hell of a rewarding package! Ryan Gosling was the definition of cool come to life as the man with no name and little words and so was Carey Mulligan and the rest of the stand out cast. During this watch, I was on edge, I was riled up, I was back-handed, I was entranced, I was smiling and I was moved. Thank you to all involved for this wonderful piece of cinema. Although the year is not over, I doubt any film coming up will top DRIVE as my number one of 2011! Yes I worshiped it that much!
Nicolas Winding Refn got some head-bashing advice from Gaspar Noé who mastered the art in Irréversible (2002).
Nicolas Winding Refn dedicates Drive to filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky.
Drive's opening credits song "Nightcall" is by French electronic musician Kavinsky while the elevator song is Brian Eno's "An Ending (Ascent)"
The assistant editor on DRIVE (Michael Nouryeh); was the lead editor on my short film The Red Hours
. Yeah! I got a DRIVE connection!