The best way to describe Drive is ‘Menthol Noir’. This film is fully engaging on several levels, thanks to the masterful narrative, the silky smooth direction from Nicholas Winding Refn, the '80s-esque pop music and the near perfect blend of suspense, humor and interesting characters. Hollywood blockbuster fans weaned on the adrenaline flowing through ‘The Transporter’ and ‘Taxi’ may feel short-changed, but the rest of us can appreciate the old-fashioned craftsmanship of Drive. This is a big recommendation for adult audiences in search of something that won't insult their intelligence.
Juggling a splendid lead (Ryan Gosling) and an easy to follow plot, director Refn (Valhalla Rising, Pusher) makes sure Drive’s pacing rattles and shakes as he delivers a narrative that, instead of climaxing with the heist, only gets more intriguing once the money is stolen. Refn puts on screen what he wants. It almost feels like the material in Drive is Viagra to him - lively and effective, rolling around the known gray qualities of the characters. In a marketplace that tends toward cranked-up action thrills, it's very nice to watch a level-headed crime movie aimed at actual grown-ups.
Drive isn't a one-man show. The dexterous cast absorbs itself in convincing performances. Albert Brooks (Broadcast News), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Ron Perlman (Hellboy) and Carey Mulligan are all excellent, each bringing their own bit of flavor to the film. There isn't a single weak link among them. Brooks in particular is subtly spectacular as the aging gangster-turned-film producer-turned pizzeria owner. And it's nice to report that star Ryan Gosling (better known for the sappy ‘The Notebook’ and last year’s ‘Blue Valentine’) continues to improve as a leading man.
Gosling plays an unnamed auto mechanic who moonlights as a Hollywood stuntman, a racer and a criminal getaway driver. He handles his role with quiet power, even during the intimate moments with his beautifully tragic neighbour (Mulligan). He is equally unassuming with the limping garage owner (Cranston) and with shady mobsters (Brooks and Perlman), as he is while repeatedly kicking the bloodied face of a man who’s sent to kill him. The most remarkable thing about all these characters is that when they're double crossed, they don't waste an ounce of energy dwelling on it - they immediately start scheming their retaliation. It's all part of the business. And Refn gives all of this to us in a very plain, brown wrapper. This is perversely refreshing and is exactly what makes Refn’s handiwork so invigorating.
Some may label this film ‘predictable’, but they’d be missing the point –Refn plays with the formula and a long tradition. It is the savvy with which he tells his story that makes Drive an arresting watch. There are only so many heist films one can see before they all start blending together and feeling obsolete. Unless a filmmaker is particularly ambitious, breaks new ground or concentrates on something larger than the robbery itself, the success of a heist film relies solely on how engrossing it is. Drive passes this test.
Drive contains many of the hallucinogenic aural tones of Refn’s own ‘Valhalla Rising’. He avoids sentimentalising or glamorising the material, keeping it dry and edgy. Drive is swathed in atmosphere, with plentiful neon lights, low angle photography, '80s juiced music, sprightly slo-mo and tense sound design. If the nostalgic music doesn’t win you over, then the title scrawled in the 'Purple Rain' font will. Older viewers will get a kick out of the primitive style used in the movie, a reflection of the times.
Well-paced, smartly told and unpretentious, Drive is a welcome break from the steady diet of pulpy Hollywood we get every week. Please watch.