Pulsating when shifted into speed and broodingly dull in pace when lowered to a cruise. Drive was very much handled like an automobile with abrupt gearshifts, the way Nicolas Winding Refn similarly handled the audience. The heavy European art-house traits with impressive acts by Ryan Gosling and support cast would keep you in the suspense as opposed to blatant Hollywood genre fashion.
Ryan Gosling stars as a Los Angeles wheelman for hire, stunt driving for movie productions by day and steering getaway vehicles for armed heists by night. Though a loner by nature, Driver can't help falling in love with his beautiful neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld by the return of her ex-convict husband Standard (Oscar Isaac).
After a heist intended to pay off Standard's protection money spins unpredictably out of control, Driver finds himself driving defense for the girl he loves, tailgated by a syndicate of deadly serious criminals (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). But when he realizes that the gangsters are after more than the bag of cash in his trunk-that they're coming straight for Irene and her son-Driver is forced to shift gears and go on offense.
Everything about the film, right from the film title to its high speed car chase and crime action, could have been handled as a mainstream Hollywood genre practice. I truly meant that. With that choice as an option, I'm really glad that Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn had opted for an European art-house crime noir approach that displayed a totally unexpected outcome that most would never have imagined of.
Let's start from the opening of the film, where the film summarised the background of its lead character incredibly in the opening preface scene where one of the nights of crime in Driver's life (yes, he's merely known by that title) was documented. An intense and well-crafted opening scene to add, it could easily go down as one of my favourite film openings.
Driver is a silent character by demeanour, he doesn't say much and acts indifferently to many things around him. Before heists, he made it clear that he wasn't interested in anything else other than driving. By night, he drove heist criminals away from crime scenes. By day, he's really just an ordinary movie stunt driver.
Either way, he drove for a living. A calm and composed driver with little words.
The days of Driver evading the need for real life interaction would soon be over. One of the heist jobs turned rogue and we would begin to see how he had to force himself out of his composed driver's seat into a dynamic state to protect his interests in life. This change later proved to be very alarming to a lot of us as it involved excessive physical anger.
This transformation reminded me of Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle. But with great finesse.
In a way, Driver's showmanship was extremely minimal. He wasn't trying to prove himself to be of somebody greater than he was. His transformation was merely a necessity that he deemed required to protect his interest, which in this case would be Irene his amiable next-door neighbour.
Carey Mulligan played a demure and adorable young wife to a convict, her performance allowed me to understand why Driver was feeling to sacrifice everything just for her. I believe she was a personality reflection of who Driver really was deep down within his void facade of senseless indifference. The kind of goodness in a person that easily attract people like honey to bees.
For that, Mulligan couldn't have been a better choice of casting.
In order to preserve that portion of pure innocence and goodness, Driver didn't mind subjecting himself to vicious influences that were the exact contrary to the qualities he was protecting. One must fight evil with higher evil, it appeared so but yet not quite. Driver's uber violent behaviour as depicted in some shocking scenes didn't quite seem to add up, only unless you consider his excessive violent traits to be associated with how desperate he wanted evil out of his life and society.
It wasn't revenge or payback, all he wanted was out and back to a good citizen's life with Irene safe.
Thanks to the exceptional directorial and technical brilliance, the film managed to project itself as a well-crafted crime noir that said stylish European cinema throughout. It was stylish from the pulsating soundtrack that influenced several scenes very aptly. It was brooding with the amazing cinematography/lighting that kept the film in its much required darkness. It was intense with a timely editing that instilled the right feel and impact. The film's gearbox competently switched gear from 1 to 6 in style.
Drive appears to be very much a winner this year, albeit with a somewhat disappointing conclusion.