After months of anticipation I finally got to see Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive on the weekend.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a really good crime movie at a mainstream multiplex cinema. Maybe Ben Affleck’s The Town, although it went down hill fast whenever it tried to move away from the heist theme and get into the characters.
Drive is not perfect, hell what film is, but it was damn close in my view, certainly up there with the best contemporary crime films I’ve seen.
The movie is very loosely based on the 2005 book of the same name by James Sallis. Ryan Gosling plays ‘Driver’. By day he works as a stuntman and fixes cars in a garage owned by his mentor, Shannon (Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame, although he will forever be associated in my mind as the father from Malcolm in the Middle, which for me is what makes him come across as so bent).
Driver’s expertise at what he does is established in the film’s first ten minutes, a fantastic high-speed chase thought the streets of LA scene during which he eludes a police dragnet.
His credo is simple:
“If I drive for you, you get your money. That’s a guarantee. Tell me where we start, where we’re going and where we’re going afterwards, I give you five minutes when you get there. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours, no matter what. Anything a minute either side of that and you’re on your own. I don’t sit in while you’re running it down. I don’t carry a gun. I drive.”
Driver is the ultimate anonymous outsider, living a life as stripped down as the cars he works on, until he becomes involved with a young woman named Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son. The two adults engage in a highly charged but strangely a-sexual relationship (the scene where Diver bonds with the woman and her child near a polluted creek off a causeway is fantastic).
The dynamic shifts abruptly when Irene’s husband is released from prison. He seems genuinely keen to go straight, but is pressured to commit a robbery by criminals who lent him money while he was in prison. Correctly assessing that Irene and her child are in danger, Driver agrees to act as get away driver for the husband so he can clear his debt.
Needless to say the heist goes spectacularly badly.
The next hour of the film sees Driver transformed into a cold-blooded killer as he attempts to protect Irene and extricate himself from the mess he’s in. Without spoiling the plot, there were several things the Driver does in the second half that made no sense to me in terms of his character.
That said I loved this movie. The cast of low life criminals, chief among them Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, are genuinely creepy. The action is suspenseful, the heist scenes masterful shot, ditto the feel and presentation of LA.
The film also has a wonderful eighties vibe (think Michael Mann circa Thief and Man Hunter as opposed to his more bloated and self-important later films), everything from the moody synthesiser soundtrack to the opening credits.
What I liked most of all, is Drive is not afraid to be a genre picture, not afraid to be a noir.
Not really afraid of anything.
I enjoyed it and think your review is solid, but it felt overly derivative,
and ultimately heavy on style and light on substance. The director openly discusses his cinematic influences for the film so it’s no secret. And check out the “Thief ” title design. What sets that movie apart though, is that the characters feel like real people. Not stock types.
The skill-set of the Driver extends far beyond just driving and that is never adequately explained. The motivations of the villains also don’t seem credible.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Yes, Refn’s influences may be overt. That said, there’s a huge difference between a successful homage to a particular milieu and a crude pastiche. Refn manages to pull off the former with a great deal of style and attention to fine detail. He doesn’t just ape an eighties LA film. As indicated in the review, I agree with you re crucial aspects of Driver’s character not being explained.
Thank you for the great site!
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