For all the hype/controversy caused by the gory violence of Nicholas Winding Refn’s latest, Drive is in no way a celebration of it. It does not revel in cartoony and exaggerated death and injury, showing the acts as they would really appear – genuinely horrific and damaging. It makes the film hard to watch for the full 100 minutes without hiding behind your hands at least once, but it is what you should expect from Refn, the man behind Bronson and Valhalla Rising. Without wishing to spend too much time on it, it is also important to note that the brutality is often sudden and shocking, with the film often lulling the viewer into a false sense of security with calming music, an utterly exceptional soundtrack, composed of original and licensed tunes, or in the case of the notorious lift scene, the most romantic shot in the film.
Drive tells the story of the Driver (Ryan Gosling effortlessly pulling off his Coolest Man in the World routine), a Hollywood stuntman by day, and criminal chauffeur by night. Besides this introduction, much of the film plays out as a fairytale, transplanted to the grimy scene of the LA underworld, with the unnamed, near-silent hero fighting the bad guys in order to save the beautiful princess Carey Mulligan and her son. But the plot and bare-bones script take a back seat (pun not intended) to the style and atmosphere put forward by the score, lighting and cinematography of each shot, which is utterly sumptuous, with blaring pink lights and retro cool. However, despite the prowess of the direction and action, the slight lack of attention paid to dialogue and character development can grate, and leads to a small, but noticeable emotional disconnect with the characters.
Talking of characters, the performances are never less than good, but the mobsters clearly have more fun, Albert Brooks positively oozing menace and suppressed murderous desire and Ron Perlman hilariously douchey as the (underused) idiotic sidekick Nino. Gosling, Mulligan and Bryan Cranston never really seem stretched by their roles but Gosling does manage to imbue the Driver with multiple layers of character, certain moments showing a sad child’s eyes behind this most vicious of fighters.
Not doing much for the foreign opinion of American film-goers, Drive was sued by one punter for not including enough driving and therefore having a misleading title. Whilst this may be true, as action is thin on the ground throughout the story, when the film revs up the ensuing vehicular ballet is always a site to behold. Any shot with a moving car is perfectly judged, giving a clear insight into the hugely impressive action that Michael Bay’s autos could only dream of.
Overall, and in the most annoying and clichéd analogy I could give, Drive is to film as an American muscle car is to the road; supremely stylish covering up the fact that not a huge amount is going on beneath the surface. However, as far as slightly shallow films go, Drive is absolutely in pole position (sorry) and deserves your attention. If you can stomach a man’s face being caved in by a boot heel.
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Writer: Hossein Amini
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston
Run Time: 100 minutes