Drive is a modern day crime thriller presented in the style of Michael Mann films of the Eighties. All the trademark ingredients are there: soaring aerial shots of city skylines, neon lights, a synth-pop soundtrack and pulse-pounding violence.
Ryan Gosling plays the mono-syllabic Driver at the centre of the story. The Driver is never identified by name and is almost entirely identifiable by his occupation. He works as a Hollywood stunt driver by day and by night he makes money as the wheelman. He says very little and performs his tasks with clinical efficiency.
The Driver finds his purpose when he crosses paths with his new neighbour Irene. They have a meet-cute in the hallway of their apartment building and when she visits his caryard the next day, the Driver ends up taking her home and makes a connection with her. Unfortunately for him, he chose the wrong girl to play the white knight for. Irene is married to Standard Gonzalez, a low-rent criminal who is locked up in prison. When Standard gets released, he finds himself in trouble with the local mob to whom he owes money. When they threaten Irene and Benicio, its enough for the Driver to get involved. He agrees to help Standard on a heist to secure the money but things go unexpectedly bad and the Driver finds himself with a million dollars and a price on his head.
I have never seen a Nicolas Winding Refn film before but watching Drive has compelled me to seek out more of his work. Drive has a familiar storyline with precious little dialogue and yet despite its economical design, the film is hypnotic and enthralls thanks to the purposefully low-key performance from Gosling and from Refn’s superb craftsmanship. This is one of those films where the audience I watched it with was absolutely spellbound by what they saw on screen. They sat in tense silence, then gasped at the bursts of action, laughed at some of the dark humour and exhaled at the denouement. Watching it in the cinema certainly heightened my appreciation of what Refn has accomplished and how he can work the audience.
Gosling is excellent as the Driver. It is a tricky role, require both moments of tenderness and outbursts of extreme violence. There are plenty of questionable actions that the Driver takes over the course of the film and yet in Gosling’s performance, he remains inately likeable. The supporting cast are excellent too. Perlman is terrific as the frustrated aging crime boss and Mulligan is suitably vulnerable and beautiful as Irene.
I never fail to be drawn in by films of this nature. Anti-heroes, small time crooks and the everyday people who get in over their head. It’s a tale we’ve seen in Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog and the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men and Blood Simple. This is a film that stands in the company of those films shoulder to shoulder with its quality.