Review: Drive

Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks.

Rating: 18  Running Time: 100 Mins

The coming Christmas period, like the Summer, will see blockbusters including Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and David Fincher’s remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo being released. Most of these have the potential to be decent, enjoyable movies, but like the summer blockbusters, they are backed by big studios throwing a lot of money (in most of their cases over $100 million each) and resources behind them. It’s during this time between these blockbuster ‘hotspots’, as we did last week with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, that we get the smaller, more unconventional, or small budget release.

Thriller/drama Drive is one of those movies.

Ryan Gosling plays a hollywood stuntman driver (whose name is never revealed) that works at a garage on cars while also moonlighting as a driver for hire for any job. His rules are simple: for a fee you can Pick a street and a time, and he’ll turn up for 5 minutes. Whatever business happens before or after is your problem, but for those 5 minutes, he’s your driver. This is explained in the opening, when his skill behind the wheel is shown as he calmly drives two armed robbers seconds after their heist, improvising to elude police while still following his original plan.

Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who owns the garage Driver works in, approaches Bernie Rose, a member of the local Jewish mafia, asking him to back them financially so they can setup a NASCAR car for Driver to drive in minor races with a goal to turning professional and making money from sponsors, to which Bernie agrees after seeing Driver’s skills on the racetrack.  One day while returning home to his apartment, Driver meets his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and soonafter bumps into her with her Son Benicio when shopping for groceries.

When Irene’s car breaks down, Driver helps her and the two of them start a flirtatious relationship during which he becomes close with both her and Benicio. Irene’s husband Standard(Oscar Isaac) soon returns having been released from prison after serving a sentence. Owing thousands in protection money to men inside connected to the mob and unable to pay, Standard is given instructions to rob a pawn shop for them but refuses. When he is beaten by them and Irene and Benicio’s lives are threatened, Driver agrees to help him by driving for him so he can manage to pull off the robbery and pay them off.

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has done an incredible job with this movie, taking a script based on a novel by James Sallis, and with a budget or around $13 million, making a movie that is not only competently composed and shot, but is visually more impressive than movies made with ten times as much financing behind them. The editing keeps things flowing along smoothly during chase sequences, but slows down for emotional character moments, allowing the performances of Gosling and Mulligan particularly, to develop their relationship on screen without rushing or forcing it.

Gosling in particular (who it’s rumoured replaced Hugh Jackman shortly before filming began) proves with this role that he can do so much with very little dialogue, but with looks and subtlety rarely seen in an actor consistently throughout a movie. Likewise for Albert Brooks, who plays a member of the local mob, and is usually to be found hamming things up in comedies but plays his role seriously, but in a role that could have been played for dark comic laughs, he’s perfectly restrained with the grace of a man who has dignity and is honourable, but could be ruthless and kill easily on a whim without letting it bother him for any longer than is necessary. None of the cast are bad or miscast, each bringing their own sense of seriousness to their roles, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman and Christina Hendricks, who have small but crucial roles, are note perfect in their parts.

The movie evokes a slight feeling of déjà vu at times, as it treads familiar territory with it’s storyline and style, but without any sense of repetativeness during it’s 100 minute running time which feels longer in a good way (Similarly to how movies like The Shawshank Redemption and The Usual Suspects did). It has an almost 1980’s explotiation feel to it, with plenty of gory and violent scenes and subtext throughout the movie, earing it the 18 rating from the BBFC, but don’t let that deter you, as it’s never in your face as much as it is with the explotation genre (Hobo With A Shotgun being a perfect recent example of how more is too much). The best way to describe the feeling from this movie is if it were Michael Mann’s Collateral directed with the style of Quetin Tarentino, only with restraint towards on screen gore, and with more emphasis on the blossoming romance between Driver and Irene without becoming overly sentimental, or dropping into cheesy romance.

Another element of the movie which deserves a special note is the musical score by Cliff Martinez. Mixed in with a soundtrack of 80’s style electronic beatbox tunes, his music is perhaps the best movie score i’ve heard since Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy last year, being subtle when necessary, but powerful during the emotional romance scenes, with some amazing atmospheric synth that adds to the movie’s 80’s feel. It’s available to download from online music stores like iTunes, and is due to be released on a CD in the coming weeks. I recommend you spare the 5 plus minutes and listen to this sample-demo of an unconventional yet stunning score.

Drive is a strong contender for best movie of the year, and I intend to get when it’s released on DVD/Blu Ray, and to get on CD once the soundtrack has been released. If this is showing at a cinema near you (some cinemas are not showing it), then do yourself a favour and go see it.

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