Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews Drive

The word “auteur” gets thrown around somewhat frivolously these days – but in the case of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, the term is a fitting one. Some movie fans have already come to revere Refn’s talent for taking intense violence and elevating it to the level of high art (see: the Pusher trilogy, Bronson, Valhalla Rising), while other moviegoers are not yet aware of the director’s talent.

Drive, Refn’s adaptation of the pulp crime novel by author James Sallis, arrives to the screen as a film that is well-acted, visually captivating, intensely thrilling, and gruesomely violent. That may seem like an odd mix of parts to have under the hood – but to Refn’s credit, Drive run as smoothly and beautifully as a high-octane sports car.

The film follows “Driver” (Ryan Gosling) a young Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as an expert getaway driver. Driver is almost robotic in his methodical approach to both crime and life, so it is a veritable Pandora’s Box when he begins to take notice of his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her young son Benicio. Before long, Driver finds himself breaking from his strict discipline in favor of life possibilities he never imagined. But the light of hope dims fast when Irene’s husband, Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac), returns home from prison.

Things only get darker when Standard Gabriel gets strong-armed by local mobsters into doing some dirty work. Driver, out of loyalty to Irene, breaks his own code by getting mixed up business he has no hand in – business that quickly goes sideways and places Driver, his partner Shannon (Bryan Cranston), Irene and her family, all in the crosshairs of local gangsters Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman). From there, things get bloody as Driver and the gangsters play a violent game of cat and mouse, forcing Driver to unleash a terrible side of himself that no one is prepared to face.

Carey Mulligan in ‘Drive’

Refn creates a movie experience like none other – though that may be a drawback for some viewers. Drive is an artist’s rendition of a neo-noir flick, offering us moments of high-class visual iconography without sacrificing the dark, gritty, working-class edge that is the defining quality of Film Noir. The director also evidences a smart capability for action: Drive has three major chase sequences, and each is composed in a way that is radically different from the others – and yet, each fits perfectly with the tone of the film at that moment. Refn also handles violence in a smart and viscerally effective way, to the effect that sound, suggestion, and a bit of blood spatter feel more gut-wrenching and nauseating than full-on gore. Throw in a perfectly synched soundtrack of ’80s techno throwback tunes, and what you get it is a mismatched set of parts that only a true auteur could assemble into a smooth, roaring ride. And Refn doesn’t just manage to fit all the parts together – he waxes and polishes this film to a fine shine.

That said, mainstream movie goers should be advised: Drive is not at all the standard action/thriller you may be expecting.

For one thing, this is a film that is almost beautifully serene and quiet for a good chunk of its runtime. Driver himself says little to nothing in the way of dialogue; it takes an actor of Gosling’s caliber to convey all the thoughts and muted emotions of this tightly coiled enigmatic figure, while still making him interesting and fun to watch. Irene is also the silent type, and much of her connection to Driver has to do with the fact they can speak volumes to one another without speaking at all. Much of Mulligan and Gosling’s time onscreen together is a conversation of glances, expressions and long stares. And, while it is a testament to both actors that the chemistry is there, some viewers will be agitated by the distance at which we are kept (though, it is a direct echo of  Driver’s detached existence). On the other hand, there is little chance that even mainstream viewers won’t enjoy the scene-chewing performances of the supporting cast – specifically Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Albert Brooks (The Simpons Movie) and Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy).

Cranston gets the task of playing Driver’s partner/foil, Shannon, a reckless and hapless chatterbox who is constantly trying (and failing) to strike his fortune in life. It’s a character who could’ve been as annoyingly over-the-top as Driver could’ve been frustratingly vacant, but like Gosling, Cranston is an actor at the top of his game and turns a bit character into something significant and memorable.

Albert Brooks in ‘Drive’

Perlman is used to playing big characters, and someone like Nino is admittedly a cakewalk for the actor by now, but no matter: his character is simply the foil for the real star of the show, which is Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose. Bernie and Nino are almost like the older, more serpentine version of Shannon and Driver, with Bernie possessing the same methodical methods and coiled fury as Driver himself. Brooks, a comedy icon, is playing totally against type here, and yet manages to create a villain worthy of Awards season. Many of the films’ best moments are when Bernie Rose is onscreen – and that includes moments of both humor and horror. Brooks breezes through the range of his character as if he’s been playing the bad guy forever, and is still loving it. Definitely a second-wind performance from a longtime performer.

While the resolution of the film’s crime drama narrative is somewhat foreseeable, Refn conveys it in a smart and unique way that will likely leave audiences debating and discussing their mixed interpretations. It’s an artistic finale that certainly elevates the conventions of the genre – but again, viewers looking for a conventional crime drama experience will likely be put-off by how things end. Still, this may be Refn’s best work  yet, and will earn him a few more admirers for what is going to be a fast-expanding fanbase, should he keep crafting cinematic expereiences that are this good.

If you’re still making up you mind about seeing the film, check out the Drive trailer below:

Drive will be in theaters on September 16, 2011.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5