It is something of a small miracle that Drive is showing in as many major cinema chains as it is. This is not the film it has been advertised as; this is much sparser in execution and delivery. Ryan Gosling plays driver, a man who works on as a stunt driver on the movies and a mechanic during the day. He also moonlights as a getaway driver at night; his pitch is “If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours no matter what. I don’t sit in while you’re running it down; I don’t carry a gun… I drive”. Naturally it all goes sour.
Shallow it may be, Drive is not without layers, the heaviest (and for some, the most suffocating) of which the veneer of cool. There is nothing cooler Ryan Gosling in the lead role. Much in the same way that Half Nelson and Blue Valentine made Gosling a valuable commodity, Drive will make him into a star. Here he is not portraying a character of depth through dramatic monologues, this is a character defined by his attire as much as his silence. Adorned with a white jacket with a scorpion upon its back, he chews on toothpicks; he exudes the existential solitude of the driver. Yet under all of his aesthetic layers he is ostensibly shy and scared, a real human being.
The way in which he expresses himself is far more innocent than the monster that is bubbling under the surface. Before he exacts some nasty hyper-violence, he emotes through simple motions over words. A scene of limited dialogue and shared smiles with Carey Mulligan’s character becomes one of the more touching and dreamlike sequences. Conversely when everything goes wrong, Driver expresses his anguish through a clenched fist and the leather stretching with his fist. Even though the film evolves from a simple love story to an “ode for John Hughes written in blood” (Winding Refn’s words), this is always an innocent film.
Such innocence is aided by the directorial talents of Refn; it’s easy to see why he won the best director award at Cannes 2011. The soundtrack and lightning are particular highlights of Drive that needs to be celebrated. As stressed earlier there are occasions where the audio of a distinct gesture is exaggerated on an auditory and dramatic level. A similar level of light manipulation is applied too, adding heft to the small things. The viewer may have their eye guided, but it’s easily forgiven when it’s as visually sumptuous and cinematic.
Alongside the star-making performance from Ryan Gosling, the other shining star is the composition from Cliff Martinez who adds innocence to the blood stains. The former Red Hot Chilli Peppers drummer turned composer has hit unconventional gold with his 80’s synth drenched in atmosphere. He also wrote 3 or 4 songs that add to that gorgeous dreamlike quality, rest assured this is one of the soundtracks of the year.
Drive may be Gosling’s transformation from indie darling to mainstream heart-throb (for men and women alike, see “gay for gosling”), however given the press you would be forgiven if you forgot that there are other actors involved. The one negative note of which is Carey Mulligan, I would never say she is a bad actress yet in drive she doesn’t play a character what she can get her teeth into, for great stretches she is just there as someone for Gosling to bounce off. Much more worthy of note are Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks. Cranston, “the busiest man in Hollywood”, plays a father figure to Driver, displaying his range and pathos in scenes that run that gamut from tragic to paternal. Albert Brooks, better known for his voice acting work (Finding Nemo), plays the counter point to Gosling, the old Hollywood to the new.
Drive may be a shallow B-Movie of horrid, stomach churning violence but it’s also more than that. This is an achingly cinematic film, which is elevated above “cool”, thanks to the lavish direction and actors at the peak of their powers. Lest not forget the most gorgeous use of synth on the right side of irony. Best of all, when the credits roll you feel like you have returned home after a long trip, such a sensation is too rare these days. Nicolas Winding Refn has not only made one of the years best, he has also boldly announced his arrival in neon pink.