Movie Review – Drive

Drive has been this little enigma in the midst of big summer movies, slowly creeping up the release date schedule as it comes off the end of the summer movie season.  I had blogged about this movie before, getting excited to see what the Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn will come up with next.  If you aren’t familiar with his works, I suggest you get on Netflix and check out his films Valhalla Rising, the cult smash Tom Hardy driven film Bronson and his Pusher trilogy.  All these films are the product of a meticulous director and one that encapsulates cinema.  His films have been in the back of my mind and I consider Bronson to be one of the best unseen movies around and it was a Tom Hardy vehicle as well.  So when Drive came about, it was this signal to the start of his first mainstream movie.  A director that gets a shot like this needs to come out of the gate and Drive was going to be the pace car for his debut.

What got me excited was the premise and the cast.  Most notably was the dramatic actor Ryan Gosling taking the wheel as the lead and having him become this rough, action star.  Judging by the trailers, we were going to get a fuel injected shot of adrenaline and kinetic action scenes that would set the stage for a fantastic movie.  Well if you aren’t familiar with Refn’s movies, you were going to get something both unique and intense.  So avoiding reviews and press releases, I got an opportunity on Sunday to get a glimpse at Drive.

Plot Synopsis:

Ryan Gosling stars as a Los Angeles wheelman for hire, stunt driving for movie productions by day and steering getaway vehicles for armed heists by night. Though a loner by nature, Driver can’t help falling in love with his beautiful neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld by the return of her ex-convict husband Standard (Oscar Isaac).

After a heist intended to pay off Standard’s protection money spins unpredictably out of control, Driver finds himself driving defense for the girl he loves, tailgated by a syndicate of deadly serious criminals (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). But when he realizes that the gangsters are after more than the bag of cash in his trunk–that they’re coming straight for Irene and her son–Driver is forced to shift gears and go on offense.

Moviefone.com

Story/Direction:

Drive is one hell of a genre mash-up.  Refn has essentially put together a film that incorporates 50s noir/heist films, the muscle car and chase movies of the 70s and 80s, strong archetype characters, this gorgeous undercurrent of 80s glitz and sound, and stylish art house action film.  There is so much to take in with the movie that you will be scratching your head as to what to make of it all.

Refn creates a contemporary feel to the setting of Los Angeles.  It isn’t filled with cliché landmarks and the typical nightlife settings.  This is an underground feel for the movie and it reflects very well on the story and characters.  It’s a sexy movie from start to finish and I am not talking about the cute as a button Carey Mulligan or the hour-glass figure vixen Christina Hendricks sexy (although both are), but more so about the direction of the movie.  From the opening scene of the calm as a coma lead in the middle of a heist, you get the full tone of the movie in one opening shot.  You have a calm, collected individual, you know what his job is, the pace picks up, the engines roaring and yet the chase slows down, but the tension never idles for one minute.

It’s a familiar story filled with familiar character types.  You have the lone hero and his distant emotional showings, a tempting vixen, the loud mouth mobster, the mentor, the love interest, and the problem.  All these blend so well together giving you a seamless story and basically changing the game on you while you watch the movie unfold.  We have long, slow pans, few pieces of dialogue between the two love interests, and out of nowhere violence.  Believe me when I say this, the violence in the movie is sudden but stunningly brutal.  Refn serves up tight, tension filled art house action movie and you will be sitting there thinking about what happens next.  The shifts in tone are sudden and never jarring, the characters are set pieces for the bigger picture and you conceived notions about action movies are tested.

Don’t go in expecting a dialogue heavy movie.  Refn has given us a film where the leads say little and we as the audience are left to fill in the blanks of what takes place.  The hero and the love interest share more fleeting glances and loving gazes instead of filling the air with cliché phrases.  The only dialogue you get is when the mobsters start doing mob things and the mentor fills in the back story of the Driver.  I think that is why I enjoy the story so much as it wasn’t cluttered with cliché lines or stilted expository dialogue.  The less is more approach suits the movie perfectly as the quiet hero doesn’t need to say much to get the point across.

Characters:

Where to honestly begin with the stellar ensemble cast put together by Refn.  Each actor and actress embodies the archetype of their character wonderfully from the stoic hero down to the torn love interest.  It’s amazing to see a group of actors work cohesive with one another and produce a harmonic cadence to the interactions they have on-screen.  While the cast is large, I am going to focus on a couple of characters since I could probably write at length about each person and their role in the movie.

Ryan Goslings plays the unknown driver. Quiet, brooding, calm, furious, and determined all blend together to form this strong, imposing figure.  Driver, as we will call him, harkens back to the time when a hero doesn’t need to say a lot to get a point across and believe me, he doesn’t say a lot in the movie.  From the opening sequence we see him collected and focused on the getaway at hand.  Then as the film progresses, we see little hints of his personality shine through, whether he is interacting with Irene (Carey Mulligan), talking with his mentor (Bryan Cranston) or handling mobsters and loose ends (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman), we are suddenly given these sudden emotional outbursts that catch us by surprise.  It’s refreshing to see a character kind of go through these manic changes in personalities without having to establish his emotions before hand.  If he feels love for Irene, he shows it through smirks and gazes.  If he is angry with his angry mentor, his demeanor changes to standoffish.  When his back is against the wall, you know it with the tightening of a fist and locked, rigid body movement.  Gosling plays the hero character well and he hasn’t even really done action movies before.  So you take an actor out of his element and have it mirror that of the character on-screen.

Now my other favorite character was Bernie Rose, the connected mobster that ties all the things together in the movie, who is played by Albert Brooks.  I loved his character as it was also an interesting role for Brooks to play.  You don’t usually, if ever, see him play a villain and a ruthless one at that.  He’s these to chew the scenery, but he brings a gravitas to the role that makes him a bit likeable in some instances.  Still Bernie is there to progress the Driver on the path and mirrors his actions.  He is relatively calm through the movie, but becomes vicious when the time needs to be.

It was a joy to get to see Bryan Cranston play Shannon, the Driver’s mentor and handler.  He has this down on his luck vibe to him that shows in Cranston’s motives by wanting to appease the mob men and make things right.  His heart is in the right place, but like his life, he just fucks things up.  It’s tragic to see him reduced to just a man scraping by and looking for the big break.  Tragedy beget tragedy for Shannon.  Carey Mulligan was also another pleasure to watch on-screen with her portrayal of Irene.  Watching her interact with Goslings characters was so beautiful and natural, even with the few words they speak to one another.  It was touching to watch their awkward interactions, the hand holding, the smile, and unrequited love for each other.  Her predicament is one where she wants to be with Driver, but knowing that her husband gets out of prison complicates matters.  It’s a familiar love story, but the sparse use of communication and dialogue make it unique and special to watch unfold.

Visuals/Sound:

Sexy, stylish, rhythmic, and methodic all describe the movie to a “T”.  Refn mixed together gorgeous visuals with a stunning soundtrack to create the stylistic, art house action movie.  To me, this is one of the most interesting action movies to have been made.  While you aren’t getting these grand vistas or colorful settings, it’s the way the film is shot and framed that give it that extra push into the art category.  Tight framing on the actors produces this familiarity between the audience and characters, but also allows an intimate view into the interactions of the characters as well.  Anytime you see Driver and Irene on-screen, we brought closer to the actors and it accents the unspoken love they share.

This tight style of shooting also is effective when things shift gears from quiet, serene moments to the frenetic violence that happens in the movie.  It hits you, but doesn’t take you out of the movie.  It’s a manic change in tone when we see characters on-screen share intimate moments, then lash out at a drop of the hat to attack someone.

Along with the visuals, the soundtrack is one of the best I have heard in a long time.  I thought that the Tron Legacy Soundtrack was incredible in the tone and feel of the movie, but listening to Cliff Martinez put together a tonal, electronic glam feel just sets the mood to this movie.  From the opening sequence with the tempo sets at idle, the baseline builds as the tension of the heist starts.  It never gets out of control in the opening sequence, but the music follows the action as its as calm as the driver.  When we jump to the Driver cruising along with Irene in tow, the music become ethereal and melodic.  When the we have sudden bursts of violence, it doesn’t ramp, but rather angelically frames the violence.  If you want an example of that, when you see the movie, watch the scene in the elevator between Driver, Irene and an associate of Nino’s.

One of the best enhancing features of the visuals and sound is the use ambient noises in tense scenes.  When the Driver is focused on the task at hand, everything natural sounding is amplified.  The ticking of the watch hand sounds like the watch is 100x bigger than it is, the idling of the engine purrs louder and louder almost as if we are waiting for the flag to drop and the race begins.  These mundane noises are isolated and turned up, creating this tension that builds throughout the scene and its get you on edge a little.  Fantastic visuals and sound.

Overview:

I honestly can’t bestow more love on this movie than what has already been said.  It is the rare action movie that marries style and substance together in harmony.  I think the movie breaks a lot of expectations in the action genre, where the movie is about a driver, there are very few scenes that involve chases.  The car chases seem so natural and organically placed in the movie and it’s something that a lot of modern chase movies seem to forget.  You place a chase scene just to place it in a movie.  You have it there to drive the story and fit the scene.  We our establishing chase scene in the opening of the movie and that is more calculated than kinetic in nature.

Tension is what this movie is all about.  It’s a slow burn to something big and Refn uses visuals more than dialogue to produce this feeling.  The ambient noises, the soundtrack, the framing of scene and Goslings emoting all convey the message.  The scene in the strip club was the standout scene that showed the whole of his character and the dangerous situation he is in.  The beads of sweat, the tightening of the grip on the hammer and gnarled voice when talking with the man responsible for his predicament just encapsulates the movie.

It’s rare when I will come out and say “that is a perfect movie”.  Everything just vibes and connects so well that it’s a seamless experience watching the movie.  I love having my expectations altered in the movie and the play on the genre was refreshing and changed the game for me.  I have been impressed with Refn’s previous movies and this is no exception.  Refn take the simplistic genre of action and car chases, injects it with this European sensibility and gives us one the most stylish movies of year.  Shocking and beautiful violence, electro-pop soundtrack tempo, strong character types, and an unconventional genre skewing film all produce one of my favorite movies of the year.

I urge everyone to go and support this movie.  I promise that you won’t  be disappointed with the movie as long as you keep an open mind about the visuals, the story, and the acting.  It’s a lot to ask for, but free up your conceptions about action, car chase and love stories and enjoy this film.

Rating: 5/5

About Nick
I am just another blogger putting his thoughts into a website. My love is movies so most of my musings will be movie related. I work as an online marketer for an advertising company and when I am not earning a paycheck, I moonlight as a vigilante film blogger.

13 Responses to Movie Review – Drive

  1. cherrysuedointhedo says:

    Love, LOVE your review!

    Agree whole heartedly with every word.

    We saw this as a surprise screening at the Dublin Movie Fest so went in knowing nothing.

    Just Awesome.

    (Have more than a 2 word review over on my blawg if you wanted to check it out ;])

    • Nick says:

      Thank you for the comment on the blog post. I try and stay away from reviews or trailers about movies I am excited to see. Knowing Refn’s past filmography, I knew we were in for something unique with Drive.

  2. Frank Bishop says:

    Hmm, i had passed this over on my xbox zune. I might give it a whirl, you convinced me. Good review. I am always up for something stylized and interesting, as long as it makes sense and delivers on some level. For the most part I think we have the same tastes in movies, I even think we analyze them similarly. I will give this a go. I don’t think my fiancee will mind, she thinks Ryan Gosling is hot.

    • Nick says:

      Haha considering you are a frequent commenter on my posts, it might be safe to say that you will enjoy the movie. I would go in without some preconceived notion of what an action film is. This is one that breaks a lot of the conventional notions when we think car chases and action. The love story angle is there, but it’s very sophmorish and young, few things are said and the reliance on body movement and facial suggestions is great. It doesn’t hurt when the two leads are fantastic actors.

      Yeah Baby Goose (Ryan Gosling) is easy on the eyes for the ladies, but we have to give them something. I mean we get the cutesy Carey Mulligan and vamp vixen Christina Hendricks to watch. Plus the violence, oh the violence.

  3. 3guys1movie says:

    Really enjoyed your review and could not agree more. This is the best film I have seen since the American.

    Did you notice Driver is a Clippers fan? What do you think Refn is trying to say with Driver only using American cars?

    • Nick says:

      Thanks for the comment. Always appreciate any constructive or destructive criticism other fellow bloggers have.

      As for the Clippers fan, guess Driver doesn’t follow the crowd of Lakers lovers. That or it’s a subtle hint about how the Clippers are underdogs and very underrated team in the NBA.

      The muscles car being American only. Got to feel that this is the throwback to the early 70s chase movies like Vanishing Point or Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. Plus American muscle cars is where it’s at.

  4. H.E. ELLIS says:

    Really looking forward to this. I’ve been a fan of Gosling ever since I saw LARS AND THE REAL GIRL. Totally wish I wrote that screenplay.

    • Nick says:

      You will have to let me know what you thought of Drive. It is still getting some amazing praise so I am glad when people are going out to see it on word of mouth

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