I’ve been reading about Drive for quite some time now. This film has had some great buzz behind it since premiering at the Cannes Film Festival back in May. There have been many words to describe this film and its director Nicolas Winding Refn. Words like “auteur” and “high art” are but a few that I’ve come across. The question is, is this film the sort of high-octane thriller the trailer makes it out to be?
That’s actually a tough question to answer. Yes and no. The film spins the tale of “Driver” (Ryan Gosling). Driver splits his time between working in a garage, working as a stunt driver in movies, and moonlighting as an ace wheelman-for-hire for criminals. He’s a loner who really doesn’t have much human contact save for his friend and boss at the garage, Shannon (Bryan Cranston).
Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio catch his eye and he soon finds himself becoming implanted in their lives thinking of the what ifs. That is until Irene’s husband, Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac) gets out of prison.
Standard Gabriel tries to make a better life, but once again gets wrapped up in the world of crime when he’s gently persuaded, and by gently I mean beaten to a bloody pulp, by thugs who want him to pull a job. Driver decides to help him in an effort to protect Irene and Benicio but things go downhill in the blink of an eye and he finds himself as well as Shannon, Irene and Benicio all at the mercy of bad guys Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman).
For this film to have the title that it does, one would expect it to be riddled with car chases. For the record there are three major scenes, each of which have their own distinct characteristics. This film really plays out like a noir flick and I couldn’t help but think I was watching a film from the 80’s. Everything from the title sequence, to the music, to the night-time city-scape scenes to Driver’s satin jacket. All of it screamed 80’s to me.
I’m not really a person who shies away from violence and normally it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. That being said, there are a few scenes of massively gratuitous violence and blood that even had me looking away. Those with a weak stomach be warned. You’ll know when it’s coming so you can prepare yourself.
Even with the car chases and the violence, Drive is by no means your standard action / thriller that you may be looking for. This is the most cerebral action film I think I’ve ever seen. When you get down to brass tacks there is not a lot of dialogue that even takes place between the two leads. The bulk actually comes from the supporting cast.
I will give both Gosling and Mulligan serious props because it takes true talent to convey emotions and have full on conversations without uttering a single word. This aspect is admirable but it’s also disengaging. This is especially true with Gosling’s character. The entire film Driver holds you at arm’s length and you’re never allowed into his personal space. Because of this distance, you’re never truly able to connect with the character. However, this is one of the defining characteristics of the character itself. He doesn’t even have an actual name for crying out loud. He’s referred to in the film mainly as “Kid”. Irene is a lot of the same even though she speaks more than he does. The two definitely have chemistry together, and they both played off one another very well.
The subdued nature of Driver and Irene are in direct contrast to the rest of the cast. Bryan Cranston is good no matter what he’s in. Shannon is a guy who keeps looking for that one big money-maker but his luck always fails him. He’s a dreamer even though harsh reality has bitten him on more than one occasion. Albert Brooks has been in the business for a long time but this is the first time I’ve seen him play a bad guy and a bad guy he is. He may not seem so wretched in the beginning, but as the film progresses so does his streak of evil. Ron Perlman’s Nino is a bit over the top, but he fits that mold pretty well.
If I’m being completely honest here, this is a film that is incredibly difficult for me to review. There were aspects about it that I liked and there were others that I didn’t. Overall I’ll say that while I appreciate what the director was trying to accomplish, this film did not strike a chord with me at all. It may take a second viewing to really absorb everything about it, but I honestly don’t know if I could sit through it a second time. With all its positives of cast and cinematography, for me, it just fell short.
Drive is one of those films that will either be ranted about or raved about. Whatever your feelings may be, chances are good that those who see this film will feel passionately one way or the other and will debate and defend their reasoning. Check out the trailer below if you’re still trying to decide.