Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
For a character listed only as ‘Driver’, he’s particularly defined by the time he spends outside his car. Splitting his daylight hours between stunt driving for movies and working at a garage owned by Shannon (Bryan Cranston), he seems to lead a normal life, even finding time for a relationship with his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan). Of course, that’s only half the story, as the Driver also moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals. When Irene’s jailbird husband (Oscar Isaac) comes home upon release, and some old ‘acquaintances’ start haranguing him for an unpaid debt, the Driver steps in to lend a hand, with unfortunate results. The opening half-hour of Drive establishes the character of the Driver, as we watch him in both his day and night jobs, always eerily calm and in control of his vehicle. It’s only when he finds his emotions tested by his relationship with Irene, and when the job to help her husband goes awry, that the calm façade begins to crack. It sounds like Taxi Driver’s emo cousin, and whilst director Nicolas Winding Refn attempts to step out of Travis Bickle’s shadow, there is no doubt that Scorsese is a major influence here. Refn’s work earned him the Best Director gong at Cannes earlier this year, and it is entirely justified; his direction is confident, but necessarily so. Drive needed a gutsy helmer to distinguish it. Cheesy 80s pop drips from the soundtrack, and blood runs deep red as the repercussions of the botched job are served up to the mob (Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks’ mob leaders are the targets), yet it never gets in the way of the characters. From the Driver to Irene to Christina Hendricks’ accomplice Blanche, the population of Drive vary wildly from distraught to emotionally null, but they are rarely less than identifiable. The bloodiness of the final act may put off some, as the Driver finally releases his inner Bickle and doles out his own brand of justice.
The cast, a mix of Oscar and Emmy nominees of all kinds, are an intriguing bunch, but this is a study of one man, and Ryan Gosling is just the actor to bring out the best of the Driver. His strangely happy perma-grin belies the temper just below the surface, but the darkness is hinted at all the way through. Refn has earned most of the raves thus far, but Gosling should merit some attention as awards season gets underway. Hossein Amini’s script generally keeps to the well-worn route of revenge thriller, but takes enough detours to allow Refn and Gosling room to put the twist on this story their way. Combining Scorsese’s style, Bullitt’s attitude and Heat’s heart, Drive is a knowing but distinct piece of character-driven action.