Ryan Gosling is "the Driver"—cool until he’s pushed over the edge—in Drive.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is one of those brazen, divisive films that inspires either rage or obsession. Positioned as a sleek, high-carat genre film, Drive is actually much stranger than that—a deliriously stylish, hyper-violent, intentionally awkward comic book of archetypes and gallows humor. You will respond viscerally to this movie. Oftentimes, I find movies in this bloody vein of hyperventilating geekdom to be interminable (Kick-Ass, etc.), but Drive just clicked—its woozy, Ambien-adrenaline pacing and belly chuckles mixed with death throes create a fully immersive experience that reminded me just how lackadaisical most films really are.
The plot in Drive is very simple. Ryan Gosling is just the Driver, a consummately effective stunt-driver and wheel-man. He falls for his demure neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her sweet son. When her ex-con husband comes back and gets himself into considerable trouble, Driver, out of love and loyalty, offers to help at no real benefit for himself. Obviously, things don’t go according to plan, and the Driver’s steely reserve is revealed in violent revenge.
Refn is as deft a filmic mixologist as Tarantino, but his passions are slightly different. Drive mixes the Michael Mann of Manhunter and Thief, the Paul Verhoeven of Total Recall and Robocop, the hazy California sentimentality of Valley Girl, and the graphic-novel brutality of Eastern Promises and A History of Violence. It’s a strange cocktail and one that could easily end in a fiery disaster, but Refn is an impressively confident director and showman. Cinematography is crisp and elegant, editing is assured, the early-80s synth soundtrack provides a perfect pulse, and the violence—brief and shocking—give the proceedings a Samurai-film-like gravitas.
All of the actors seem to realize that this is a special project. Gosling continues his meteoric rise to become the Paul Newman of his generation. Albert Brooks breaks from his comedic past, playing a ruthless mobster with spectacular and terrifying results. And Bryan Cranston seems have a ball slipping into a wonderfully creaky, Peter Falkian role.
Drive dovetails nicely with Tree of Life, another divisive, stylized film. Where Tree of Life looks to god, to creation, to family, and to the earth, Drive looks to death, art, solitude, and machines. You may find these movies maddening, but at the very least, they’re something different. A
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