Original release: September 16th, 2011
Running time: 100 minutes
Director: Nicolas Refn
Writer: Hossein Amini
Composer: Cliff Martinez
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan
Your driving is your means to your hustle, stunts by day, crime by night, and then boom, you’re new neighbour is the angelic Irene (Carey Mulligan) with a broken down car and a husband in prison, and before you know it you’re embroiled with the mob and driving for your life.
Based on a James Sallis novella of the same name, Drive follows said nameless driver as he tries to do the right thing for Irene and her son, Benicio (Leos) and keep out of the way of the police and some gnarly gangsters after a heist goes wrong. The story in Drive is propelled by what happens when the lone wolf driver stops observing the world and begins to engage with it. We don’t know anything about his backstory, other than he’s been in LA for a while, working with Shannon (Cranston) for a couple of years and he chews on toothpicks instead of smoking.
He doesn’t have friends or girlfriends or hobbies or visible emotions. And yet, his conviction in helping Irene is believable and captivating; Gosling’s character is magnetic. We’re given a lot of close up shots, especially of his eyes and fabulous sculpted muscles, Gosling somehow gives us the substance of his character that goes unsaid. He’s taciturn, a relatively blank canvas for the audience to project onto him what they want. His uneasy alliance with Standard (Isaac) could have been played out in any number of ways, but Gosling makes the driver seem honourable at times when surely he can’t be.
The way the driver swaggers into people’s lives to rescue them, with no name or backstory is something akin to a Clint Eastwood hero, the streets of LA a modern day frontier, the driver being one voice of morally-grey in a sea of definitely evil. The story arc is simple and has been done many times before to the point of cliché, the dialogue is sparse, the cast number low. There is not much in the way of substance to Drive, but the style more than makes up for it. The lighting is tightly controlled and manipulated, to create dark brooding scenes in the interior of cars, to the harsh artificial lights of underground parking garages, to an over-saturation of sunlight in the parking lot during the final scenes.
The over-saturation is used in a notable elevator scene too, adding a dreamlike quality to the action, accentuated by the use of slow motion. Is the audience to believe that said action did really take place? What does it mean if it didn’t, and the eponymous driver simply imagined that it did, or wished that it did? Does it really make a difference either way? The shots Sigel and Refn use create a closeness between the audience and the characters. The close, cropped shots of hands, faces and eyes draw the audience right in to the often violent action.
Drive doesn’t skimp of the violence, unflinchingly showing the audience mob brutality and blatant disregard for human wellbeing. The instants when the driver becomes violent is when he loses control, and this gives us an insight into what he cares about, particularly when it boils down to Irene and Benicio.
Sigel began his career as a painter, and this certainly shines through in the overall look of the film, particularly in the attention to detail. The recurring motif of the scorpion on the driver’s jacket, getting grubbier and grubbier as the picture progresses, was visually eye-catching, as well as the connotation of the driver having ‘a sting in his tail’. Carrying a sleeping Benicio down the hall, wrapped in the jacket illustrates how protective the driver feels towards him and Irene. Even the violence, which would usually put me off, seemed artistically done, with explosions of flesh and vibrant splashes of blood.
Cliff Martinez creates a tense and minimalistic score, providing the atmosphere where the audience isn’t sure what’s going to happen next, as well as providing the words that the characters cannot say aloud. The soundtrack is great; undoubtedly influenced by the 80s, the synth-heavy soundtrack provides pomp and swagger, the bassline to Night Call being pretty much the perfect fit for the leading track, both lyrically and aurally.
Lyrically, Under Your Spell by Desire narrates the romantic arc between Irene and the driver that is shown discreetly on-screen. A Real Hero by College performs a similar task too, informing the audience of the character’s humanity whilst they do things which could easily alienate them from us.
Outside of the core cast, there were solid supporting performances. Perlman is formidable as Nino, the Jewish mobster with a pizzeria for his front, his business partner Bernie Rose (Brooks). Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks also feature in minor roles, well acted, but with so few minutes on screen it almost didn’t seem worth the effort. Save for the glorious blood splatters, that is…
Drive is spectacular. It’s sexy and violent and thrilling, and will leave you rooting for all of the characters involved. It is an example of stylised filmmaking at a very high level, one that has turned a potentially mediocre story into a extremely enjoyable piece of cinema.
Frances likes words and pictures, regardless of media. She finds great comfort and escape in film, and is attracted to anything character-driven with a strong story. Through these stories, she will find meaning in the world. Three movies that Frances thinks are really good for this are You and Me and Everyone We Know (Miranda July), I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK (Chan-Wook Park), and How I Ended This Summer (Alexei Popogrebsky).
When Frances grows up, she would like to write words and make pictures and have cool people recognise her on the street and tell her that they really enjoy her work.
She can be found overreacting and over-caffeinated on Twitter @penny_face, a childhood moniker from her grandmother owing to her gloriously round face.