Drive

1 Oct

Nicolas Winding Refn set the bar high with Valhalla Rising but he outdone himself and won the Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival to boot with this, his Hollywood debut. In Drive, Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, Blue Valentine) stars as Driver (he’s never actually named), a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver, who has to try and survive when a contract is put on him after a heist goes terribly wrong. Adapted by Hossein Amini from a James Sallis novel of the same name, Drive has many similarities to the classic neo-noir heist movies of the 60s and 70s. The most obvious similarities are with Walter Hill’s The Driver (which also features an unnamed stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver) and Jean-Pierre Melville’s masterpiece Le Samouraï. Like those two films, Drive presents us with a protagonist isolated from society with nothing to fill the void that engulfs him. However in Drive, Driver forms an attachment with his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) which sparks the destruction of his life, for better or for worse.

Drive is such a great film mainly because of the perfect, minimalist performance of Ryan Gosling who joins the ranks of very few actors who make a film – not through their words but through their actions. He plays Driver very much like Steve McQueen’s Bullitt or Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name – violent but low key, through grimaces and glances rather than through exaggerated stunts or emotional monologues. He manages to embody the existential melancholy of the grunt in the world of crime – someone who simply exists in an ugly world, unable to escape it. In the hands of another actor Driver could have simply been an empty shell – a zombie that occasionally talks. Gosling brings a dimension of complexity to the character and we feel that has had a tragic past even though it is never said.

Despite it’s minimalism, Drive is a stylish film featuring neon lighting, electropop and unnerving but expertly choreographed ultra-violence in the style of Quentin Tarantino and Gaspar Noé. In one stylish memorable slo-mo scene set in an elevator a kiss sparked by a child-like infatuation is quickly followed by a brutal killing. In some ways, the visuals are a striking parallel to the character’s psyche.

Drive could easily have become a lacklustre film in the vein of the recent Fast & Furious cash-cow but instead, under the direction of Refn and talent of Gosling, it is one of the standout films of the year and will surely be a classic in years to come.

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