Drive (2011)

Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is that rare movie that oozes style from beginning to end all while respecting the viewer.  The film is full of cool indie synth music that almost takes you back in time to the 80s; it also has a dark, tense feel of a neo-noir action flick, and just so happens to have something to say.  Refn understands that Hollywood is full of CGI and explosion-filled action, and has clearly heard moviegoers’ cries for something unique and refreshing. That is exactly what Drive delivers: a stylistic and different take on your typical action flick. Its style is complimented by talented actors giving subtle yet emotional performances.

Our protagonist is Ryan Gosling’s titular Driver.  As per his name, Gosling’s character is a Hollywood stunt driver by day and a getaway driver by night for whichever criminal can afford him.  He is the best of the best: a cool, calm, and collected driver that no cop can catch.  However, he finds himself starting to fall in love with his cute neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), and as he starts to get to know her and her son, his cool demeanor starts to tear at the seams.  Everything finally unravels when he tries to help Irene’s freshly-free-from-jail husband (Oscar Issac) pull off one last job.  As Driver’s world comes crashing down around him, he realizes that maybe this life is more than he bargained for.

Drive’s screenplay by Hossein Amini is based on the novel by the same name written by James Sallis.  Originally a bit of a lengthy screenplay, Refn took it upon himself to thin out the dialogue so that the story would play out more in the actors’ faces rather than their words.  As a result, Gosling himself only utters 116 lines of dialogue; for a movie that revolves around that one character, this is really quite shocking.  But as stated above, this movie isn’t about the dialogue; it’s about the style. The retro synth score by Cliff Martinez and the dark neon feel brought by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel really provide that cool neo-noir aesthetic that makes Drive a refreshing new type of action film.

The most refreshing aspect of this film is that you get the full action movie experience without the in-your-face CGI and explosions you’ve come to expect from the Michael Bays of the world, all thanks to a mix of clean editing and intense performances.  There are at least two fantastic car chase scenes that recall simple throwbacks to the likes of Steve McQueen’s Bullitt: this includes the opening chase scene, which was brilliantly edited with little music, instead accompanied by the play by play of a game on the radio. It was impressive to watch Gosling race around town without ever showing any worry or emotion, setting the stage for the moody, stylistic and somewhat minimalist, emotional feel for the rest of the film. Indeed, it is a true feat to have someone so outwardly austere still seem like one of the most passionate characters I have seen in a movie in a long time. This theme of subdued emotion by the main character is contrasted with the presence of intensely terrifying gangsters, including Albert Brooks’ Bernie Rose. In a surprising role that is not the least bit funny, Brooks plays a truly scary mobster, a convincing killer and psychopath, demonstrating a range that he hadn’t often previously displayed.  Like most others in the film, it’s a stunning performance.

Drive was originally supposed to be a big blockbuster action flick a la The Fast and The Furious, starring Hugh Jackman and directed by Neil Marshall. However, after a couple years in the planning phase, both Jackman and Marshall left the project. The producers brought in Ryan Gosling who in turn handpicked Nicolas Winding Refn as director after the latter described how he wanted the film to focus mainly on the moods of the characters, with Driver being front and center, driving around LA at night, listening to pop songs. When I think about the movie that could have been, with Jackman and Marshall, and then think of the movie that was, with Gosling and Refn, I feel incredibly grateful that things unfolded as they did. The end result is such a unique take on the action/car chase genre, and I loved being a passenger along for this ride. Two thumbs way up.

The stats:

Drive landed at #76 out of 1354 movies on my Flickchart.  That converts to a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars or 94%.  It is ranked #10 out of 271 films I have seen from the 2010s, and it is ranked #8 out of 20 movies I have seen so far in this challenge.


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