MOVIE REVIEW: Drive
Starring Ryan Gosling, Christina Hendricks & Bryan Cranston
Brimming with equal flashes of style and character, Drive echoes the cold detachment and professionalism of 1980s crime sagas no longer popular or profitable this day and age. Directed by Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn, who treats every widescreen composition as if it were a collage of melting iconography, Drive tells the story of a nameless Driver (Ryan Gosling) working as a Hollywood stuntman by day and criminal getaway driver by night. Through simple twists of fate, or one might say predetermined overlapping experiences, Driver gets emotionally involved with Irene (Carey Mulligan), a single mother with a shady past. Their glowing connection, illuminated by a stunning early morning drive through the concrete corridors of Los Angeles River, is a sublime reflection of hope in a sea of darkness, violence, and brutality. Still, a relationship like this can’t stay simple, especially when it’s surrounded by so much raw menace.
Long stretches of silence dominate the early moments of Drive, as if Winding Refn wants his superb cast of actors to find resonance and emotion by sharing the same space. But Driver and Irene’s time together is shattered when her husband gets released from jail, bringing home heavy criminal baggage from ongoing past indiscretions. This plot turn jettisons Drive into the land of Russian gangsters, seedy crime bosses, and relentless assassins who populate a slick, precise vision of Los Angeles filmmaker Michael Mann would adore. At this point, Drive gloriously presents a series of disturbing visceral images and audible booms, where shocking bits of physical violence and bloodshed jarringly interrupts all sense of peace.
Visual motifs run rampant throughout Drive. The recycling use of elevators, masks, and smiles purveys a specific and necessary sense of intimacy, a crucial buffer for all the violent aesthetics. Gosling’s consistently stoic gaze is wonderfully contrasted with the spreading bloodstains on his gold racing jacket, fittingly inscribed with a massive scorpion on the back. Winding Refn’s obsession with fetishistic images and scenarios always begins with Gosling’s face then spreads to the outlining images of the frame. A flipping car, an ensemble of naked dancers, and a row of reconstructed classic cars all provide fitting background context to whatever horrific event is taking place in the foreground. Furthermore, when Driver walks through a specific space, whether it’s a seedy nightclub corridor or Irene’s sun-drenched living room, his figure cuts through like a shark searching for an iconic purpose. In both instances, his presence always leaves a palpable ripple.
Drive travels down some disturbing narrative avenues, most notably because of Albert Brooks’ scary turn as Hollywood ex-patriot Bernie Rose, a charming snake that strikes when you least expect it. Juxtaposed with Gosling’s near-wordless hero/cipher, Bernie’s verbose sadism feels like an extension of the Hollywood machine itself, willing and able to slice away any loose ends in protecting the bottom line. It doesn’t take long to realize Bernie’s showmanship is nothing if not alluring, and incredibly deadly.
Most of all, Drive will undoubtedly be remembered as the beginning of a brilliant professional relationship between director Winding Refn and his two stars. Gosling already has three films lined up with Winding Refn, beginning with the crime story Only God Forgives filming this winter. Mulligan also plans to work with Winding Refn again on a controversial film the director claims “will have a lot of sex in it.” Whatever the success those pictures experience, the trio of artists will always have Drive. Brilliant and at times horrifying, it’s a slippery slide down a film noir rabbit hole that manages to find endless depth and nuance beneath the jet-black genre surface.
- Drive opens in wide release today, September 16, 2011.