(Read this in my publication In Retrospect – Issue 2)
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive is based on James Sallis‘ 2005 novel of the same name, with screenplay by Hossein Amini. The film is undoubtedly one of the best film’s of 2011, and even received a standing ovation at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
Ryan Gosling, who remains unnamed throughout the film, plays a Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a getaway driver. He works for Shannon (Bryan Cranston) in a garage, who approaches mobsters Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman) for backing to buy a racecar and have the “Driver” race it. Driver meanwhile becomes involved with his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her younger son, but as a romantic connection begins to develop, Irene’s boyfriend Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison. Standard still owes an old associate some money, so Driver offers to help out of his concern for Irene. But when it all goes fatally wrong, Driver is left to clean up his mess.
Brutal scenes contrast with some truly passionate ones in Drive, and I think that’s why it has been so successful. As with most films, Driver finds love during his threatening situation. But it’s not a misguided subplot, it’s a love derived from intense emotion which strengthens the film by engaging audiences even more. Unfortunately, this romance doesn’t get very far, but the few scenes of Gosling and Mulligan together give a big impact (especially when Gosling has to smash someone’s skull in straight after their first kiss).
In summary, Drive is like a scene from Grand Theft Auto. The film opens with a getaway – a mission has been given, Driver picks up two thieves who have just robbed a warehouse and then drives away whilst trying to avoid capture from the police. Engines roaring, sharp corner turns – it’s surprising no prostitutes were purposely run over. But what’s not to love about that?
There are, however, a few potholes in the storyline. We know nothing about this Driver to make a judgement from, which supposedly means that he can get away with killing a few people now and then and the audience still like him. Shannon asks no questions, so no answers are given. It’s as if he stumbled into LA, as if a character from a game, helped out a few thieves and then went back to his day job. He barely talks, unless a response is needed from him, but maybe it’s this mysterious persona that attracts us to his role, which Gosling plays brilliantly.
For me, the best feature in the film is its synthy-pop soundtrack, which includes Nightcall by Kavinsky (ft Lovefoxxx) and Under Your Spell by Desire. Two 80’s style, slow-paced techno songs that really endorse the film. They emphasised the more romantic scenes in the film, or Gosling’s calmness when driving and, without this soundtrack, the film wouldn’t have given the same effect. They made the Grand Theft Auto style storyline more like LA Noir; they gave the film a bit more class and helped to tone down the more violent scenes by having these songs to fall back on.