(18) Running Time: 100 mins
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Writer: James Sallis
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaacs.
Reviewed by: David Gillespie, HCF Official Artist
A special mention has to go to Mr M. Wavish, one of our official HCF critics, before I review Drive, a superior art house action offering. I had to review this. For solely selfish purposes. Sorry, Matt. This is by far the most expertly packaged and enjoyable piece of pulp cinema that you will sit down at the multiplexes to feast your eyes on this year. It’s like getting a Big Mac served to you at a top class restaurant but with all the very best ingrediants put into it and a quality chef constructing it for you. Yes, you know it’s trash but when it tastes this good, who cares?
Ryan Gosling plays the unamed driver. An empty shell of a human who works as a Hollywood stunt driver during the day and a gettaway driver at night. He would rather avoid his pretty neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligen) and her young son, who he has an unexplained affection for, in a shopping aisle then have to participate in the potential complications of engaging in some form of conversation with them both. He lives his life like a ghost with only his garage boss and surrogate father, Shannon (Bryan Cranston) looking out for him and indulging in anything like a conversation. Most of the time structuring and performing the conversation for them both.
One day Irene and their son visit the garage with their faulty car and the driver takes them for a day out and a mutual attraction deveops. Unfortunately Irene’s husband (Oscar Isaac) is returning from a long stint in jail and has debts to pay so the driver agrees to help him for Irene’s benefit. It all goes horrendously wrong and then everyone, including local gangsters, ruthless Bernie (Albert Brooks) and reckless Nino (Ron Perlman) are after the driver, the money, Irene and her son. Rather than run , he takes the strategy of offence being the best defence. All bloody hell breaks loose and the story goes into top gear. It seems that not only is the driver incredibly skilled behind the wheel but has been holding in some seriously untapped frustration and aggression.
It’s probably worth getting the negative aspects of Drive out of the way first. If character development and long descriptive conversational pieces are your thing then Drive is not for you. Ryan Gosling’s anti hero is not a conversational starter. Apart from his opening speech of giving his clients a 5 minute window during a job, he doesn’t say much of anything. Being content with a wry and sinister smile as a retort or alternatively an ‘i’m going to stamp my foot through your skull’ expression if someone threatens or pisses him off, he avoids the spoken word. The character has as as much in common with the classic Steve McQueen stereotypical role as advertised in the press, as he does with Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle. He is a sociopath but a sociopath that we root for. Does he sit and watch cartoons with Irene’s son for all the right reasons? Or does he only wonder what it would be like to be a normal human being with a sweet family? This is never explored as is any form of character exposition.
Does the director purposely avoid telling us something about the characters? We are giving only small fragments. Does this mirror the nature of the titular character? For instance, we are given so little explanation regards Christini Hendrick’s role other than she is an accomplice in the tragic pawn shop heist that you might wonder why she was chosen by the director other than she is pleasing on the eye.
The 18 certificate is warranted. The violence comes in a good third of the way through the running time and is of the schlock horror variety. Mirroring the bloody approach that he took in Valhalla Rising, Refn revels in gloriously, bloody closeups of ruptured arteries and fountains of blood. This clashes with the dreamy, neon lit beauty of the opening moments. This might be a problem for some and welcomed by others. I felt it seemed a little off kilter with the 80’s themed mood of the project. Apparently Refn consulted Gasper Noe as to how he performed the skull crushing scene in Irreversible for one memorable setpiece.
The car chases are brief and free from any notable big explosions or carnage. Yet they are exciting and cleverly staged. If you wanted to rob a bank and get away from the scene with the minimum of fuss then the driver is the man that you would want on your side. The opening heist is wonderfully shot and builds up the tension without needing to deliver the big money shot payoff.
Where Driver does excel are the performances. Top marks have to go to Gosling who does so much with a part that could have been so dull with the wrong actor. Although repelled by his sadistic outburts, you can’t help but side with his honourable (or are they?) motives towards Irene and her son. Mulligen shines as Irene. A woman that has been dealt a poor hand but trudges on in life without a bad word or grumble. She cracks a smile but you can still see the deep sadness and regret in her eyes. Brooks and Perlman are fantastic as the villains of the piece. Albert Brooks has travelled through his career as the good guy or bumbling fool. Bernie will be chatting away to you in a friendly manner then reach for his box of knives and razors to slit your throat with not a seconds thought. Perlman’s Nino is a bitter and reckless thug. He is given most of the funny lines and is the main catalyst for the violence and destruction in the story. His final confrontation with Gosling is worth the admission price alone and could be straight out a John Carpenter horror flick. Marvel at the shot of Perlman’s character climbing out the wrecked car with the masked driver pearing down from the hill on the top right. Was I the only one that was creeped out by that stunt mask?
The visuals and score are also worth a mention as they are truly superb. The retro credits and soundtrack at the start of the feature will put you instantly at ease that you have sat down for something very special.
That is what you get. A lean ( $15 million budget), highly skilled and constructed art house movie with a b-movie heart and for what it’s worth, my favourite movie of 2011 so far.