Nicholas Winding Refn’s new film “Drive” is a car film no doubt, but it doesn’t feel like your typical Hollywood car film. A man known as Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a stunt driver for movies by day and a getaway driver for heists by night, who gets caught up with a syndicate of dangerous criminals.
Sounds like standard fare, right? Wrong. The way Refn stages and lights each scene, combined with Newton Thomas Sigel’s gritty cinematography, gives the film an almost dreamy yet noir-ish look. It’s a smart and compelling action/drama mixed with an 80’s B-movie revenge flick, and it’s the most creative car movie I’ve seen since Quentin Tarintino’s “Death Proof.”
In the opening scene, Driver is doing a heist job. He waits outside a building for two robbers to come back. His police radio is on, his watch is ticking. The robbers rush back to the car just as we start to hear sirens. Driver puts the car in drive and they’re off. From this point on we’re expecting a high-octane car chase. Instead, Driver takes his time. Quickly driving and then taking cover in the darkness, and so on, until he reaches safety.
The scene is exciting but not too over the top and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie’s action scenes. Instead of being overwhelming and fast paced, Refn slows them down, so that they’re graceful, with sudden bursts of fluid energy. It’s a perfect example of how skillful directing and editing can be much more effective than pure nonstop action.
With every new role Gosling keeps showing us how much range he has. Just a little while ago he was playing a cool playboy in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” In this film he’s quieter and reserved but could kill you in a second. He doesn’t talk as much in “Drive,” and neither does his next-door neighbor and love interest Irene (Cary Muligan), which is good or bad depending on how much you like dialogue.
There’s more visual interaction between them than verbal. They do have conversations but they’re brief and sometimes a little awkward. Nevertheless they still pull it off, playing naturally likable characters and their romance is very pleasant but enigmatic at the same time. Driver is the helpful stranger next door with a dark secret looming inside him while Irene is the innocent mother.
The Conflict switches gears when Irene’s ex-convict husband comes back into the picture and gets Driver, Irene and her son tangled up in the dangerous underworld of some criminals played with relaxed arrogance by Ron Pearlman and Albert Brooks.
Fearing that they might go after Irene and her son, Driver goes on the offensive, taking vengeance on them. Immediately the movie turns into a revenge thriller. Gosling’s performance heats up, becoming ruthless, killing the foes in a series of gory sequences (he goes to a strip club and beats a man with a hammer). But they never lose that finesse I mentioned before.
Cliff Martinez’s (who also scored last weeks “Contagion”) electro pop soundtrack is just as much a character as Driver or Irene. It’s used to match the different moods of the picture. When it focuses on Irene and Driver’s relationship the music is peaceful and haunting. When there’s an action scene, the music is vibrant and fast moving. When there’s a suspenseful scene (such as the opening) it’s as subtle as a heart beat. It adds a considerable amount of personality to the movie.
I could sit here and try to think of flaws but I’d be nitpicking. I was never bored during “Drive.” It’s serious enough for you to care about the action and characters yet it’s not afraid to indulge in B-movie fun. But describing the film isn’t enough; it’s truly the kind of movie you have to see to fully understand.