Shut up and DRIVE!

Drive ★★★★½
(USA, 100 min.)
Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn, Writ. Hossein Amini
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac, Ron Perlman.
Ten bucks won’t fill the gas tank, but it can sure take you for a wild ride! Drive revs up fall movie season and puts us en route to the Oscars. A pedal to the metal, high-octane thriller, Drive has the sass and gusto of a B-movie actioner combined with the artistic pedigree of A-level award-season fodder. Quite simply, this is one hell of a movie!

The film begins with an exhilarating opening sequence: a nameless driver (Ryan Gosling) makes arrangements on the telephone. He then picks up a non-descript car and rolls on over to a shady warehouse. He checks his watch, listens to the baseball game, and tests his grip on the steering wheel as the clock ticks away. A police report flashes onto the radio: a robbery is in progress. The drive checks his mirror. A masked man exits the warehouse and runs toward the car. He enters and both he and the drive wait and listen to police bulletin. Their location has been named and their car has been spotted. When the second robber finally makes it to the vehicle, the driver careens into the road, and then covertly navigates the streets of L.A to elude the police. He’s unsuccessful, and the subdued tension of the past few minutes explodes into a high speed, kinetically paced, and frenetically cut car chase.
From the opening scene, director Nicolas Winding Refn displays a masterful ability to manipulate tone and expectations. As the first half of the sequence suggests, he is unafraid to allow the action to move at a snail’s pace. Drive frequently plays out in long, subdued shots, which are matched by Gosling’s expertly stoic performance as the driver. The driver is a man of few words, but needlessly so, for Gosling’s brooding demeanour and Winding Refn’s lingering camera cover greater terrain than a few mere lines could; however, as the latter half of the scene reveals, Drive also excites and surprises through well-crafted action, both physical and technical.
Nothing in Drive follows convention. When the driver – who moonlights as a stunt driver in movies – is approached by a mobster (Albert Brooks), he accepts the man’s deal despite every hint to do otherwise. Both men’s hands are dirty, the film playfully says, blurring the line between villain and hero. The film quickly deflects the mask as a mere red herring though, for Brooks’ maniacal and deliciously evil performance leaves no doubt who the baddie is.
Also challenging expectations is the obligatory love story. Through a series of random events, the driver ends up courting his neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan). He also makes friends with her son, Benicio, for Irene tells him that the father is in prison; however, just as soon as the driver becomes a surrogate father/husband, Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison. Rather than be bitter, though, the driver befriends Standard. The two even become allies when men from Standard’s past come to collect old debts and threaten Irene and the boy.
This puts both Standard and the driver in an awkward position. Desperate for money, Standard accepts a robbery gig to pay off his dues. The driver, meanwhile, accepts to help, if only to ensure the safety of Irene and Benicio. Teamed with a voluptuous partner, Blanche (Christina Hendricks), the men set to pull off a relatively simple heist. The job goes horribly wrong and sends the driver through another escape. He squeezes some information from Blanche, and learns that he and Standard were duped. Worse, there is now a price on his head, for the job wronged some very dangerous men.

As the bodies pile up and Gosling coolly manoeuvres the debris, Drive becomes a perfect mix of bloody B-level fun and thoughtful indie artfulness. While the driver propels from one scene to the next, Winding Refn captures campy retro action in the gloss and sheen of a first-grade art film. The director also displays a Cronenbergian handling of the film’s operatic bloodbath: Drive is not a film that aims to shock, but rather plays upon acts of violence in order to render them mundane and, in turn, ask the audience to confront said violence. (The driver works in the pictures, after all.)
A top-level crew, especially DP Newton Thomas Sigel and editor Matthew Newman, helps Gosling and Winding Refn. Cliff Martinez contributes a terrific, adrenaline pumping score along with a killer soundtrack. Like Kill Bill, the carnage of Drive is toe-tapping fun. The supporting players all contribute gamely as well: in addition to Brooks’ cartoon kingpin, Carey Mulligan offers a strong subtle performance, while Hendricks’ saucy performance as Blanche makes ample use of her brief screentime. Bryan Cranston also pops up as the driver’s pit boss, and rightly garners some of the film’s best laughs. It’s really Gosling’s show, though, and he puts the film into overdrive. 

Drive is currently playing at the Mayfair