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Non-Review Review: Drive

This movie was seen as part of Movie Fest, the rather wonderful film festival organised by Vincent and everybody else over at movies.ie. It was well worth attending, and I’m already looking forward to next year. Good job all.

Drive took home Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, and it’s easy to see why. This pulpy retro crime thriller is an intense joyride featuring what might hopefully be a long over-due star-making role for Ryan Gosling.

Gosling has an impressive body (of) work...

The film feels like it has an engine with the kick of a seventies neo-noir, housed inside the sleak and stylish body of an eighties crime adventure. Everything about the film’s production feels like an affectionate reference to the old-style thrillers, with the film’s heavily-stylised pink font calling to mind the neon thrill of the decade taste forgot, while the year’s best soundtrack pumps to a synth-heavy heartbeat. The film’s score is easily one of the most distinctive and impressive of the past number of years, and I imagine I’ll be hunting down the official soundtrack album soon enough.

The lead wears a distinctive white sports jacket and is forever seen chewing a toothpick, and occasionally wearing oversized aviator sunglasses. He looks like he could have wandered out of the wardrobe department of any major eighties production. The film’s Los Angeles backdrop, providing any number of moody and atmospheric establishing shots, calls to mind the tropical brand of noir that Miami Vice brought to the screen for five years in the eighties. However, as fascinating as these trappings are, don’t let them fool you. The production’s outer skin might evoke the sleakness of the eighties, but the film’s soul feels at least ten years older.

Gearing up...

The lead character, referred to as “the kid” and “the driver” by the assorted cast, would feel right at home among any of the strong and silent leading men of the seventies, with Gosling especially calling to mind the always stoic Clint Eastwood – the definitive “Man With No Name.” The driver is an outsider. He’s alone. It would be easy to keep count of the words that escape his lips, and (in retrospect) I kinda wish I had – it would be an interesting piece of trivia. However, I was too lost in the movie’s wonderful atmosphere to worry of such trivial concerns. We’re introduced to the character sitting outside, waiting and watching.

It’s apt, as that’s a lot of what the character does – he observes, rather than engaging. He drives. At one point during the film, he remarks to a female neighbour, “I’m free at the weekend, if you wanna ride.” From any other character, this would seem like a rather forward innuendo, but he’s being honest. There’s the sense that the character is perfectly zen behind the wheel, comfortable and at ease – something that he simple isn’t elsewhere in the world. His apartment is empty, save for car parts and automobile repair manuals. Like all those great thriller leads, we know very little of him save what he does. And what a man does tells you a lot about him.

It rings true...

The plot is fairly straightforward, following a stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver in order to pay the bills. He forges a connection with the young family who live next door, a lonely wife and her young son, awaiting the release of their family’s patriarch from prison. Of course, things get complicated. They always do. And the movie knows that it’s always fascinating to watch a simple man deal with a complicated situation. It really feels like a conscious throwback, in terms of tone and style, to those wonderful old thrillers.

I sincerely hope that the film does finally put Gosling on the map. Of course, the actor’s had a fair number of leading roles in the past, but his driver is a fascinating creation. It’s probably hard to play a mostly mute character, getting across the full spectrum of human emotion without over-acting. I say “probably” because Gosling has a wonderful charm, one that makes the character simultaneously compassionate and ruthless, brutal and restrained, noble and criminal, all at the same time – and all bubbling underneath a calm exterior. Gosling is, to continue the car analogies, the engine that drives the film.

Taking it hall in...

That’s not to diminish the fantastic supporting cast, featuring actors like Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston, both of whom are always a pleasure to see. Ron Perlman also has a bit of fun in a nice small role as an arrogant and proud (and boastful) West Coast mobster. However, the best supporting performance is given by Albert Brooks. Brooks is wonderful in the role of another character who isn’t anything like what he initially seems, and Brooks makes the character a fitting counterpart to the lead. I would be delighted to see Brooks pick up a Best Supporting Actor nomination this year.

Of course, all this ignores the wonderful style brought to the screen by director Nicolas Winding Refn, who is perhaps most famous for springing Tom Hardy on an unsuspecting world in Bronsan. Refn has a wonderful visual style, one which instantly reminds the viewer why Los Angeles was always such a prime location for crime thrillers – from driving through the city’s dried-up river bed through to a night-time confrontation on a beach. The whole locale looks beautiful, and yet dangerous. Refn’s vision suits its characters, trashy and seedy, yet with a hint of class, like a mobster’s favourite Chinese restaurant.

He's certainly got Drive...

Drive is one of the best films I have seen so far this year. It is well worth your time – I recommend seeing it the first chance you get. It’s a classy little crime thriller, but it’s one produced with a lot of love and affection for what came before. Easily the best film I saw at Movie Fest.

11 Responses

  1. I’m really looking forward to this one. Fine review, Darren.

  2. Glad you loved it Darren, easily most my most anticipated movie for the rest of the year.

  3. It’s so cool that you got to see this, Darren. Along with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, this just may be the biggest film of the winter for me.

  4. What do you think the odds are of Gosling getting any awards play?

    • I don’t know. I reckon he’s due something after Blue Valentine and an incredible year. But I reckon he’s slightly more likely to get a supporting nod for Ideas of March. That said, “the kid” does have some great scenes where his exterior cracks, and a chance to prove Reynolds can act. I think Ideas is more likely, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see a nomination for this.

  5. I. Can’t. Wait… for this to arrive here on Friday. A great review that has raised my anticipation. Thanks, Darren.

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