- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © FilmDistrict
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ne of the bigger success stories to come out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival was the Nicolas Winding Refn film “Drive," and it’s been building an incredible amount of buzz ever since. So much, in fact, that it seemed like the movie couldn’t possibly live up to all the hype. But while it may not exactly be what a lot of people expected, it's easy to see why audiences fell so madly in love with the film after its premiere at Cannes. "Drive" is an unforgettable moviegoing experience, and though it will likely have a difficult time appealing to a mainstream audience, it's one of the first truly must-see movies of the year – a seemingly incompatible blend of art-house drama and Hollywood revenge thriller that somehow works.
Ryan Gosling stars as the unnamed protagonist referred to simply as Driver in the film’s credits, a Hollywood stuntman and mechanic who moonlights as a getaway driver to make some extra cash. A lone wolf by nature, Driver strikes a rare friendship with single mom Irene (Carey Mulligan) when he moves into the apartment next door. But just as the pair is beginning to get close, Irene’s criminal husband, Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac), returns home from prison determined to make amends. When some prison buddies force Standard to knock over a pawn shop as repayment for their protection while he was inside, however, Driver volunteers to help him for the sake of his family. But after the job goes horribly wrong and Standard is killed in the process, Driver begins to hunt down the men responsible in order to protect Irene and her son.
The opening heist is one of the best cinematic introductions in quite some time. An edge-of-your-seat car chase that is simple in execution but packed with tension so thick that you could cut it with a knife, it tells you just about everything you need to know about Driver. He’s soft-spoken but deceivingly smart, does business following a specific set of rules, and has some serious skills behind the wheel. But even though he barely speaks, Gosling’s modern day Man With No Name is instantly likeable thanks to the actor’s ability to ooze charm and Steve McQueen-like coolness without batting an eye.
Gosling is essential to the film’s success, although many of the supporting actors deliver strong performances as well, including Albert Brooks playing against type as a movie producer turned mobster with ties to the botched heist and Bryan Cranston as Driver’s mentor/father figure. Mulligan's character isn't quite as memorable, but her chemistry with Gosling is so good that you'll hope they work together again soon, while Christina Hendricks makes the most of a limited appearance. Cliff Martinez's synth-pop score also deserves special mention, providing some invaluable mood to the film's quieter moments much like director Nicolas Winding Refn's previous movie, "Bronson."
Though some might complain that the first half of the film is too slow, it actually works to its benefit, because the serene and almost poetic disposition of those early scenes make the extreme acts of violence that Driver commits in the second half seem that much more excessive in comparison. My only wish is that the film’s big climax was a little more unrelenting. Despite splashes of bloodshed throughout the final act, that juxtaposition between tenderness and brutality (a theme best explored late in the movie during a scene where Driver and Irene share a romantic embrace seconds before he bashes in some guy’s skull) would have been even more effective if the audience was never given the chance to catch its breath. That makes it a little less enjoyable as a result, but it hardly takes away from Refn's achievement. “Drive” is the perfect balance between artistic and commercial filmmaking, and that's a quality you just can't ignore.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Sony’s Blu-ray release of “Drive” probably should have been a lot better than it is (Ryan Gosling is surprisingly absent from the proceedings, while the lack of an audio commentary is disappointing), but it still has a decent collection of bonus features that are worth checking out. In addition to a quartet of featurettes ranging from casting and stunts, to a closer examination of the relationship between Driver and Irene, there’s an excellent 25-minute interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn where he talks about his first meeting with Ryan Gosling, securing financing, casting his actors and more.