Written by J.T. Johnson
Director Nicolas Winding Refn, a filmmaker who has given audiences films such as his “Pusher” trilogy, “Bronson”, and “Valhalla Rising” has now given audiences what is arguably one of the best films of the year. First off, “Drive” is not an action-packed, Michael Bay inspired movie. That is a surprisingly breath of fresh air.
It tells the story of a man (Ryan Gosling) who is a stuntman by day and a getaway driver by night. He has no name. He is simply the Driver and driving appears to be all that appeals to him. That is, until the audience meets his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan). When he finally gets close to Irene, the Driver not only bonds with her but he also bonds with her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos) as well.
In the meantime, the Driver’s boss, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), is trying to build a racecar team. He thinks the Driver is special and convinces crime boss Albert Brooks (Albert Brooks) to donate the funds for the racecar. But soon, Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released and he owes people protection money from when he was locked up. To pay the debt, the criminals want Standard to pull off a heist.
After threatening Irene and Benicio, the Driver decides to help Standard with the heist as long as Irene and Benicio are never threatened again. Of course, the heist goes terribly wrong and the Driver finds himself on a bloody path in an attempt to save the woman he loves once and for all.
The film takes its cue from the likes of Michael Mann’s “Collateral” and the immortal classic “Bullitt”. The tone and style of the film are influenced not only by Mann’s films but also the 1980s with a soundtrack that seems to be ripped straight out of the decade. When the audience sees the shots from inside the front seat of the car with only the Driver’s eyes in the rearview, it is obvious that “Bullitt” was a major inspiration for the filmmakers.
It should be noted at this point that the film does not give audiences the action directly. It takes its time and like a brilliantly crafted thriller, scenes build intensity and right before the audience can’t take it anymore, the scene explodes into climactic moments of intense action or bloody brutality.
The first five minutes that open the film foreshadow the tone for the rest of the film. The Driver is on a job and instead of just outrunning the police, he also uses L.A.’s tangled web of streets against his pursuers. If someone wants the movie to get straight to the point, then he or she will be disappointed. It’s a mood-setting, psychological ride that sets up then executes its scenes perfectly.
Gosling is powerful as the Driver because he embodies the character he is playing. The Driver just wants to drive and is socially challenged. Even the Driver’s infatuation with Irene is something new to him and he doesn’t quite know what to do. Gosling also helps set the mood every time he clinches his hands around the steering wheel or some other object such as the handle of a hammer. This is exactly what the audience is doing to their armrests.
Another performance of note comes from Brooks as Bernie. Usually, audiences are used to seeing Brooks as a comedian. Here, he is a cold-blooded yet conflicted monster. Bernie knows the simple solution to their problems but thanks to his idiot partner’s (Ron Perlman) decisions, there is eventually no turning back. In these types of films, the villain usually has no redeeming factors. The fact that he does care about all the players involved to some degree makes him slightly more sympathetic.
The film could have been an action blockbuster with several car chases and amped up action sequences, but that would have missed the point. Instead, “Drive” turns out to be a superbly executed thriller and ultimately one of the best films of the year.