From watching Drive, you get the feeling that Ryan Gosling would have found good work on the silent screen. His Driver is in the same vein of brooding, quiet heroes as Clint Eastwood’s ‘Man With No Name’ (right down to the toothpick). His emotions are buried deep within him, and it takes something special to coax feeling from him. He is a character from another age of film making, and shares more than a likeness with somebody like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, not at all accidentally.
A fantastically cast Gosling plays a man we come to know simply as ‘the Driver’. A Hollywood stuntman and garage worker by day, he moonlights as a getaway driver. He is yours for precisely 5 minutes while the job is being done, and no more. We get a taste of this in the fantastically tense pre credit sequence. We follow the Driver on a job, picking up two criminals from a break in, and embarking on what becomes a violently nerve wracking journey for all involved, except Gosling, who appears completely tranquil throughout. Avoiding helicopters and police cars, he dispatches them in a car park, abandons the car and walks away. It’s how you wish you drove in Grand Theft Auto.
Despite it being undoubtedly Gosling’s film, there is a fantastic supporting cast, giving The Driver’s world some depth. Bryan Cranston plays the desperately tragic, but well-meaning friend and boss of Gosling, while Cary Mulligan is the neighbour with whom he forms some kind of relationship. In a bizarre sense they are kindred spirits, quiet and lonely, and come to depend on each other. He bonds with her son, and protecting her and her family gives him some kind of integrity and meaning that his life otherwise lacks.
For the most part it is a cool, almost ethereal film, drenched in 80’s imagery, music and fashion. The shots of a glistening, neon LA coupled with the grittiness at street level form an interesting juxtaposition between the glamour and the underbelly of the city. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has a fantastic eye for light, and it is used in very striking, and very varied ways throughout the film.
The violence in the film, when it occurs, is extremely visceral. It is at such odds with the overall tone of the film that the first acts of violence in the second half of the film come as quite a shock. While most of it is vital to the film, certain CGI shots could have been filmed more subtly.
Drive is a fantastically unique film, impeccably cast and perfectly toned. It may not be to everyone’s immediate taste with its extreme violence and unusual style, but it certainly finds its way under your skin and many of its scenes will stay with you for a long time.