Drive is a film that hearkens back to a bygone era of filmmaking. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has crafted a highly entertaining crime drama that feels like something that would have been made in the 1980s. Almost the entire film relies highly on style over substance, but the style itself is truly something to behold.
In another wonderful performance, Ryan Gosling stars as an auto mechanic and professional stunt driver that also moonlights as a getaway driver for big heists. After becoming romantically involved with his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan), he gets caught up in a pawn shop heist designed to pay off her brother’s debt. The heist turns out to be a set-up, placing him in direct conflict with a sleazy film producer turned crime boss (Albert Brooks) and a decidedly less dignified mobster (Ron Perlman).
For a film about a stunt driver, Refn plays things remarkably cool. Ambiguity abounds in this largely quiet film, punctuated by flourishes of violence. Gosling plays a character that not only doesn’t have a name, but largely doesn’t say anything. This driver is all business, and when both his business and the life of his love are threatened, he has a slightly harder time sticking to his old code of ethics.
Refn’s direction (which won him an award at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year) is superb. Drive acts almost as a distant cousin to William Friedkin’s underrated To Live and Die in L.A.. When Brooks states that he used to be a producer of European crime films, it becomes clear that Refn is spelling out the tone of the movie for the audience.
While the plot might not exactly be deep or thought provoking, Refn wisely focuses not only the style of the film, but also how his actors style their characters. Gosling is perfect as the nameless lead character that can be totally calm and detached around anyone except Irene. Mulligan and Perlman deliver typically strong performances, but the real standouts here are Brooks (playing a villain and well against his normally comedic type) and Bryan Cranston as the driver’s somewhat suspect friend and co-worker.
Drive doesn’t reinvent or improve upon the heist genre in any huge way, but it is well worth a spin down to the multiplex to check it out. It’s about as good as empty entertainment ever gets.
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Top image: A scene from Drive. Courtesy Alliance Films.