Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive is a gloriously brutal love letter to action movies of the 70’s, featuring a lead character that doesn’t even have a name, a fantastic synth-pop score and soundtrack and very well stage action set pieces. Drive is one of the best films of the year. Not even wasting a second to get started, the film opens with a fantastic scene involving our hero at work as he drives two thugs to a warehouse somewhere in L.A.
Our hero is quickly put to the test when the cops catch a whiff of his trail. Showing exceptional driving skills he leads his fare out of trouble. Refn then throws out the style. Bold, bright, italicized Pink colored credits accompanied by a slow pulsating pop song with way too much swag leads us through a night drive in L.A. with The Driver.
The Driver (with no name) is played by Ryan Gosling who is this year’s it boy for film. The guy has been around for years but it seems like this is his year to break out, and boy what a film to do it in. Gosling plays the driver as a quiet, cool and calculating young man who mostly stays to himself. But don’t be fooled. His Driver explodes with intense rage when pushed to the limits. Probably the most famous scene from the movie is proof of this as he is forced to protect the girl he is smitten with.
The girl is played by Carrie Mulligan who probably couldn’t be any cuter if she tried. She lives in the same building on the same floor as our hero. He soon forms a kinship with Mulligan and her young son. We find out that her husband is in jail and will soon be released. This doesn’t faze Gosling. When her husband is released, he almost immediately gets in to trouble with his crew. Gosling offers to help for one time and one time only.
Up until this point, the movie has been pretty tame. There are some moments of uneasiness, but nothing quite boils over. That is until Gosling ‘s offer to help. Gosling offers his services as a driver for Mulligan’s husband on one last job. The job goes completely awry and from here on out the movie is on fire. Along with the brutal elevator scene, Refn stages an unbelievably violent set piece in a hotel.
The first time I saw Drive at the Toronto International Film Festival, the audience was cheering and whistling when the hotel scene reached its apex. I’m not a champion of violence, but when something is done right I know it’s worth applauding and Refn’s action sequences are a stand up and cheer from the banisters type of effort.
I know every other critic has done this but I must echo their praises, Albert Brooks. What a performance. He’s been funny for decades. Here he plays completely against type and nails it. Here is a three dimensional villan that is so sinister, yet so, I don’t know the word for it. Understanding maybe? He doesn’t want to do the things he has to do, but he knows they are a mean to an end. I can’t wait to see his name called for an Oscar nomination in 2 months.
With all these great stars in Drive, it’s easy to forget that the real star of this film is director Nicholas Winding-Refn. The Danish director has quite the eclectic palate of late. His last 3 features couldn’t be more different. His film Bronson was an intense performance piece by the brilliant Tom Hardy. His film after that Valhalla Rising was a slow esoteric and extremely bloody look at Vikings in the highlands of Europe.
Now comes Drive, his Hollywood breakthrough. A highly stylized and a very confident film that completely stands apart from anything else released this year. Bright and colorful, full of gloss and extreme ire, Drive is a breath of fresh air. I cannot wait to see what Refn does next.