Drive Netflix Streaming DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Kaden Leos
Originally Released: May 20, 2011
Let me just begin this article by pointing out the final paragraph of this post is the most important of the review.
Featuring Ryan Gosling amidst an impressive cast, the Nicholas Winding Refn-directed Drive is one of those rare films that become immediate classics. While touting some action and crime thriller material, the film is essentially a character study, with extraordinary technical work and some significant symbolism – all of which when combined demand your attention throughout the entire movie.
Drive focuses around an unnamed protagonist known only as The Driver, who leads a life of dichotomy involving cars – working as a mechanic and stunt driver by day, but by night works as a getaway driver for criminals in Los Angeles working heists. Moving to a new apartment, he lives next door to neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos). The three develop a new friendship that seems to put The Driver onto a new passageway in life.
But Irene’s husband Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac) is shortly released from prison, and though he is determined to turn over a new leaf, begins to become tied up in the criminal element again in a manner that’s not only life threatening to himself, but to his family as well. The Driver volunteers to assist Standard in the matter, using his getaway skills; but the situation worsens for all involved, placing Gosling’s character in a position between organized crime bosses in a quest for vengeance.
The plot, adapted from the novel of the same title by James Sallis, is exceptionally solid, even bringing some unexpected elements from earlier in the film into key climactic scenes towards its conclusion – one example being the silicone mask from the stunt movie set. Everything ties together nicely, consolidating aspects of the story in its formative stages as the tale progresses.
What works very consistently for Drive is the fact that a majority of the first few acts focus less on the crime, less on the action, and more on the characters and their relationships. These sequences are significant to the overall lasting impression of the film, coupled with some of the best performances from Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan ever captured on video, and truly causes a solid and sympathetic connection to the main characters. Surprisingly, this even embraces the antagonists or villains if you will, as well, painting a multi-dimensional portrait that sets for a dynamic foundation for the story.
The adaptation, in many ways, is a retelling, or perhaps to be more precise a speculative concept of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name. Gosling’s character channels the great Eastwood role and is especially comparable to it in all three Fistful movies. The Driver is the archetype or characterization of a classic anti-hero. And just like Eastwood, Gosling plays a man with absolutely no name whatsoever.
Gosling, in no uncertain terms, overshadows and owns this film completely. He lives and breathes as The Driver, embracing the identity with an incredibly convincing performance that is guaranteed to command your attention and keep you glued to the screen. There are numerous scenes where he conveys the turmoil of the inner workings of the characters through his eye movements alone.
And the gorgeous Carey Mulligan is also stellar in this film. Known to Doctor Who fans as Sally Sparrow from the epic Steven Moffat-penned Blink, Mulligan again continues to surprise and entrance the audience, with another absorbing performance in which even simple gestures tell volumes of stories about her character. Mulligan is always a treat to view in film, and her presence in Drive is reason alone to see this movie in my mind.
Bryan Cranston puts in an admirable role as well, in a character which is kind of like “what if Walter White from Breaking Bad was actually Breaking Bad Luck?” His demeanor also provides a command presence on-screen, as does Ron Perlman‘s performance in the film which is fairly formidable.
In other ways, Drive is also quite the homage to some of the older and definitive action movies long gone, where the action scenes were secondary to the story and the characters. Director Refn truly reinforces this sentiment, and in doing so, brings more kick-ass moments and raises the tension quota during the more penetrating action and violent moments.
On the topic of violence, it comes (even though it shouldn’t be) unexpectedly. After a good portion of the movie focusing on characters and relationships, the violence becomes important to the script, but comes through with extreme brutality and, in some cases, refinement. In many ways, the depiction of the violence also showcases another side representing the main character as well. The gore factor is impressive, with some sequences having the intensity that would belong in a horror movie. These elements are especially important in this movie, striking an impression on the viewers that are sure to shock, but emphasize the earlier plot and character consolidation.
On the technical side, the set design and lighting also hearkens back to movies years gone, developing a somewhat nostalgic effect in some scenes. On the other hand, there are some other sequences and shots that “hit me right in the nostalgias” and reminded me of some of the scenery from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Appending some of the seedy characters to the mix, and the story could have practically been lifted from that GTA universe. This is not a bad thing, in fact, like San Andreas (which, of course, was based on Los Angeles, the setting of this film), the savagery and action play an impressive role that only has substantial impact when connected with the strong characters and even stronger script.
Sound engineering and editing plays a whopping part in Drive. A lot of work has been done in producing the right sound moments to underscore, punctuate, or emphasize specific moments – sometimes with some major emphasis on the power of silence as well, and that plays heavily during the film’s final moments. The impact on a lot of this work may go unnoticed by some, but in the scenes where it counts, the sound work adds to theses sequences to help them become some momentous film moments you will never, ever forget.
Furthermore, the music soundtrack, at times, seems to reflect the inner turmoil of Gosling’s character. The synthpop tunes that accompany Drive also add a lot of power and impact to the film – and also contribute to the nostalgia factor as well. There are several moments where the music feels quite Seventies or Eighties, despite the contemporary nature of the current movements in the genre. Despite this, the soundtrack is unique, and avoids many clichés that have since been buttonholed by action films and thrillers over the years.
Actually, the main song that appears several times thematically, "A Real Hero" by College featuring Electric Youth is so infectious, I’m considering embedding it right here in the review.
As a matter of fact, bugger it, I will – here it is:
Gangnam Style ain’t got shit on that! That tune is going to be stuck in your cerebral cortex for weeks now.
Back to the review, symbolism is particularly important in Drive. I won’t get started on this element, because I could probably go on for weeks about the depth and layers applied to the film as a whole. One element that is easy to spot on the surface is the Scorpion icon on the back of the Driver’s jacket; while the choice of color (silver) for the jacket more than likely has some profounder homage. Beyond this, there are several scenes and elements within the film that have some strong and deep symbolic meanings that emanate on multiple layers, which will no doubt increase the “rewatchable” worth of the movie.
Oh, and being a film called Drive, it almost goes without saying that the action sequences and car chases are superb. But I’m going to say it anyway: they’re superb. Not only that, they’re breathtaking and memorable – again emerging on top of that strong character foundation I’ve been harping on about so far.
At this point of a review, I usually write a nice little conclusion to wrap everything up. But this time, I’m going to simply ask: why the hell are you still reading this? By now you should have stopped reading, logged into Netflix, and begun viewing the film if you haven’t already seen it. The reason I say this is because Drive is one of those exceptional and rare films that are generationally defining, and become immediate cornerstones of cinema history.
Are you still reading? Then stop. And go and watch Drive. Right now.