15 Oct

Title: Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer: Hossein Amini, based on the book by James Sallis
Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks
MPAA Rating: 
R, strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity
100 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
Rotten Tomatoes: 

Prior to watching Drive, I had seen two films to which I had given a perfect A+ grade this year out of the 149 releases I have seen so far. One of them is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which I technically just an A grade film but that I bumped up to a perfect score because I’m a huge fanboy of the series and I wanted to give its final epic outing a perfect grade to reflect the tremendous impact it has had on my life. The other I saw even earlier, in early June, and it was The Tree of Life, the polarizing and breathtaking masterpiece from Terrence Malick, a visually stunning film that was gorgeous to look at. I don’t want to get going about my feelings about that film, because those have been explained in the lengthy review I did upon watching it, and because they would need a whole new post. I’m here now to talk about Drive, and I talked about the films I have given a perfect grade to so far this year because Drive is now the third to get one of those, and, moreover, it’s right at the top, this is the best film I have seen so far in 2011, and it’ll take quite a bit to top it.

This is the year of Ryan Gosling, people. I mean, it’s also the year of Jessica Chastain and maybe Brad Pitt, too. But to me, this is the year of Ryan Gosling. This is a guy who has been delivering amazing work throughout his whole career at a seriously consistent pace, and that’s what makes a great actor to me: consistency. And by my money right now the most consistently amazing actors are probably him, Daniel Day-Lewis and Michael Fassbender, and I know how much of weighty statement that is, but just look at the stuff he’s been doing since his breakout role in The Notebook, which even though is Nicholas Sparks adaptation is still one of the best romantic movies of the past decade, he’s given us his Oscar-nominated performance in Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl and, especially, his heartbreaking turn in last year’s Blue Valentine (which I also gave an A+ to and finished as my 4th favorite film of 2010). This is a guy who’s just supremely talented. And this year he’s given a trio of really versatile performances, but this is the first I’m actually getting to see since I missed out on Crazy, Stupid, Love. (though I’ll catch up on it soon) and I’ve still to see the recently-released The Ides of March, but yes, even if he only had done Drive, this would still be the year of Ryan Gosling.

And we got lucky with the casting and directing changes in Drive, since reportedly this would have been a film starring Hugh Jackman instead of Mr. Gosling, and directed by Neil Marshall instead of Nicolas Winding Refn. And boy we really luck out because of it, since not only does Mr. Gosling give this sublime performance, but a lot is also owed to Mr. Refn, a director known for his visual style which he has displayed in his Pusher trilogy, the amazing Bronson and last year’s Valhalla Rising. No disrespect to Mr. Jackman or Mr. Marshall, but if Drive is the masterpiece it is it’s pretty much because of Mr. Gosling and Mr. Refn and the chemistry they struck with one another.

As they did the press rounds to promote this film Mr. Refn and Mr. Gosling told lots of times the story of how they got together to discuss the film before it went into production, and it never gets old to me: Mr. Refn was battling a horrible cold and was high on his medicine and then goes to meet Mr. Gosling to dinner but is so phased out by the drugs he’s taken that he asks the actor whom he just met to please drive him home, on the silent and uncomfortable drive home REO Speedwagon’s ‘I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore’ comes on the radio and they both start singing to it. That was the moment that made them realize they wanted to make a film about a guy who listens to the radio as he drives through Los Angeles during the night, and it was the moment that really made these two guys bond and that begun a friendship that really struck a chord with both of them, as they already have at least 3 upcoming projects lined up in various stages of development.

And if you think Mr. Gosling and Mr. Refn aren’t enough to get you insanely psyched for a movie (though they seriously should be), then just take a peek at that supporting cast. Carey Mulligan is in it, and frequent readers of mine may know just how talented I think she is and how much I adore her, and then there’s Albert Brooks, yes, Albert Brooks, in a role that you wouldn’t think wouldn’t necessarily be suited for him but that he nails to perfection and is already garnering him some Oscar buzz, and they are joined by a trio of stars that you may best know for their work in three of TV’s ten best series: Christina Hendricks (from Mad Men), Ron Perlman (from Sons of Anarchy) and the incomparable Bryan Cranston (from Breaking Bad). That’s a cast that exists, these people actually got together and made a movie, it really shouldn’t be that surprising that Drive was this good.

I have written about as much as I write for a regular review and I realize I haven’t said a single thing about the actual film, so I guess you’ll have to bear with this review going into overtime. But I guess I don’t really know how to put into words all that I felt about this film, it’s quiet in its contemplation of its sublimely-built atmosphere, and it actually takes on a story that we have seen before plenty of times, because it gives us our hero, Driver, who’s actually a good-hearted guy but with this seriously dark side brooding within, and there’s the woman in peril he has to save, and there’s these bad guys that are doing everything they can for the dark side of our her to emerge victorious in the battle for his soul. These are elements we have seen before, and it’s a film that’s influenced by a lot of things we’re familiar with as well, it has a lot of 50’s noir elements, it feels like a thriller from a decade or so after that and it sounds like something straight from the eighties thanks to the score provided by Cliff Martinez, also one of the year’s best. And yet, all of that considered, it’s still an exceptionally unique work.

This is a film in which our hero has no name, he’s only referred to as Driver, and the reason for that becomes increasingly obvious from the very first moment we see him, driving a getaway car in one of the best-staged, most-intense and best-edited car chase scenes I have seen in my life. We learn that he’s a stunt driver by day and a getaway driver by night, and we learn not much else about him after that. He has no name for all we know, no family, and pretty much no emotions, he’s a man that doesn’t say, he just acts. And the way Ryan Gosling plays him is just phenomenal to watch, there are some pauses he takes in this film that seem to last forever, and yet you kind of want them to last longer. Not that this is a film about stares and few words, just wait and see the violence that this film offers, it’s exceedingly gory, and off-putting to some, but to me it never felt like too much, and just the way it’s so stylishly built by Mr. Refn makes it worthwhile.

It’s good that Driver is a guy defined by what he does, a guy that feels deep inside but that doesn’t show it on the outside because the plethora of supporting characters we get here do more than enough talking, and are very clear about what they want and how they’re going to get it, it balances out perfectly. I just love it that in today’s movie world that at times seems so dumbed out, asking for an explanation for everything, there’s still room for a character to exist and rely on a performance that’s deliberate and stoic and intense and that just with those qualities gives us all the background information we could need for a main character. Seriously, I cannot praise this character enough and how perfectly he’s played by Mr. Gosling, it gets to the point that you don’t really care at all about how he got to this lifestyle and you just want to see what’s next for him.

Ms. Mulligan’s character, Irene, is what’s next for him, as she and her son, Benicio, cross paths with Driver, who lives down the hall in their apartment building. Irene’s husband is in prison, we learn, and she strikes up a friendship with Driver, not the sort of friendship that has you thinking sex from the moment they lay eyes on each other, but one that’s rather more innocent and pure, and the first time they go out together (another scene that’s wonderfully soundtracked) you get a look at what lies underneath Driver, you see his grin that shows that he doesn’t have many moments in his life that are as pressure-free as that one, that whole scene is just remarkable. Because if Mr. Gosling is one of the best, if the not the best, young actors in the world today, then Ms. Mulligan is surely one of his female counterparts. As we’ve seen in her masterful turn in An Education and now here, she’s a woman who can exude a vulnerability that’s amazing to watch.

The thing is that soon after, Irene’s husband is release from prison, and it’s not that he’s jealous about Driver, or that he tries to intimidate him, it’s that he sees an opportunity with him, and it’s not long before he pitches him an idea for a heist. That’s what will keep the film going, because you know things will go wrong, and Irene and Benicio will get in trouble, and Driver will then show his loyalties, will finally show some emotion and will try to do every little thing he can to keep them from harms way. It’s really amazing what happens next and how the other characters come into play, whether it’s Shannon, Driver’s boss played by Bryan Cranston who owns a garage shop and wants to start a racing team, or Bernie Rose, the character played to perfection by the amazing Albert Brooks, who embeds in him this whole lot of charisma and empathy even though you know his character means no good.

After all of it is set up, you just have to sit back and leave the driving to Mr. Refn, who’s a master at getting reactions from his audience because he knows how to get them and he know exactly the kind of reactions he wants, even if people may get shocked at the violence in here. Even the sound here is awesome, not only the aforementioned electronic score by Mr. Martinez, but just how every gunshot sounds, it’s awesome, and that many parts of it are edited to the musical cues just gives this one a sensational sense of rhythm. And if you think this film is over-stylized, you and I have to do some talking, because it may be stylized like crazy, but not to point in which it’s too much and it takes away from it, if anything those nifty little angles and slow-motion shots Mr. Refn employs add to the experience like crazy because this is a director that doesn’t employ of all these techniques for the sake of employing them, but that knows how they’ll come together in the end product.

If you can, go see Drive right now, it’s the best film I have seen all year, it has Mr. Refn fully taking advantage of his Hollywood coming-out film, because as much as this is still an arthouse kind of flick and has all of this stylized auteur flourishes the guy is known for, it’s still hugely entertaining and, unless you have a problem with too much blood, you’ll get a great kick out of it. And the whole cast is just sheer perfection, embracing their roles and playing with their characters, and the stunts all look terrific and the music and, damn, just everything about this film is unbelievably good. And chief among the things that are good about this film is Ryan Gosling, again, this is his year, this is an actor that can just find the best roles out there and make of them what he wants to and have us believing him every step of the way. You can’t really ask much more than that.

Grade: A+


2 Responses to “Drive”

  1. CMrok93 October 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    I feel a little bit guilty saying that Drive needed more driving. When the action comes it is tense and artfully done without shying away from the extreme violence, but that all starts to go away as soon as the characters start talking, or sighing and looking at each other. Nice review.

    • relativelyrealistic October 17, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

      Yeah I guess I can totally get where you’re coming from saying that, I guess I just happen to fall on the other side of the spectrum of opinion regarding that I kind of liked the long looks and performances from everyone involved. Thanks for readingg!

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