I had heard a lot of buzz surrounding the movie Drive, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling. Last night after small group and before work, I stopped in at the theater to check it out. I was not prepared for what I got, but in a good way.
Drive has a simple, straight-forward premise. A movie stunt driver also moonlights as a wheelman for armed robberies in Los Angeles. He develops a relationship with Irene (Carey Mulligan), a neighbor in his apartment whose husband is in jail, and her son, Benicio. When the husband is released, he owes some bad men some money, and The Driver agrees to help in order to protect Irene and Benicio.
The first thing you need to really know about this movie is that it is not a typical action movie in the vein of The Fast & the Furious franchise. It’s much more arthouse stylization, subdued and focused on the characters than the cars. I have seen two other Refn movies: Bronson and Valhalla Rising. Both movies have some extreme brutality to them, but Valhalla Rising in particular is the movie that I see a lot of similarities to in terms of the quiet, stoic, brutal killer that Mads Mikkelsen played in Valhalla Rising and the character Gosling plays here. No name is given, like out of an Eastwood western. He does not speak a lot of dialogue. The Driver is a man of few words and quick, decisive action. You also get the feeling that there is a lot bubbling just beneath the surface of this guy who mostly maintains his cool. Also, the quiet, simple, protective nature of the man to the boy also calls back to Valhalla Rising for me.
Gosling and Mulligan do a great job of creating chemistry and longing for one another in this movie, with so little actually said between the two of them. Instead, a lot is expressed in the way they look at one another throughout the movie. A lot of movies would be lazy and add really bad dialogue to express the love and affection that is blooming between them, but this one doesn’t and is better for it. There is a really beautiful scene in an elevator that is one of the most memorable of the year for me, both because of the beauty of it and then how quickly the pendulum swings in that scene.
Also, this seems like the movie that will have the one score that will stick out to me more than any other I hear this year. A lot of the movie is a tribute to previous movies in a similar vein as this from many years ago. The jacket The Driver wears, the leather driving gloves, the toothpick, all harken back to a previous era, as does the music, which is a great evocative retro-80s synthpop score that really adds another layer to everything you’re watching. Do yourself a favor and listen to “A Real Hero” “Under Your Spell” and “Nightcall” and tell me you don’t picture yourself driving in some scene that Michael Mann is directing. I don’t even really like a lot of music from the 80s, especially synth-based stuff, but I was really digging it in this movie.
Drive does a very good job of combining some really great action and, at times, exquisite gore with arthouse tendencies without being too pensive for its own good. And there are some good, understated acting performances in this movie as well.