Drive, Nicholas Winding Refn’s minimalist action movie about a stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as a getaway driver, feels like a film out of time. Its methodical pacing, neon-soaked vision of L.A. and electronic soundtrack give it the feel of a lost Michael Mann film and it’s easy to see why the film received such a mixed response from audiences on its theatrical release. Anyone expecting Fast Five would be sorely disappointed by its lack of traditional spectacle in favour of a slow, chaste love affair between Driver and his neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan), broken up by scenes of startlingly brutal violence.
Whilst the look and sound of the film recall the 1980s, the story itself riffs on cinematic stories that go much further back. The idea of a man without a past entering the lives of ordinary people in order to help them is reminiscent of a thousand Westerns, though the film specifically recalls Shane, and Refn’s decision to use images of cars and action movies hearkens back to films like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which took American iconography and used it to explore deeper, more existential themes.
Yet Refn is very much a genre director, so whilst he explores the nature of heroism fairy tales, he never forgets to make an entertaining, sharp thriller. The slowly winding tension of watching Driver get inexorably drawn into the life of Irene and her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac) until he is forced to help them take on the criminals who threaten their lives is masterfully down. It builds to a fever pitch before quite literally exploding halfway through, after which the tone changes from one of brooding, inescapable menace to one of manic intensity. The final half an hour or so, in which Driver finally transforms into the sort of hero that he only pretends to be in his day job, is relentless in its sense of unfolding disaster, as all the various players are drawn into conflict and blood flows freely.
It’s also the last part of the film that Albert Brooks truly shines as Bernie, the former gangster who is reluctantly drawn into the mess surrounding Driver, Irene and Bernie’s partner, Nino (Ron Perlman). There’s something monstrous yet deeply human about Bernie. He’s a man who didn’t ask to be involved and isn’t happy about the things that he has to do, but once he is forced into action he does them with a ruthless efficiency that belies his affable demeanour. It’s a great performance, and Brooks’ recent Oscar snub will be remembered down the years as one of the great Academy injustices, as will the lack of recognition for the film itself, which is a truly astonishing, compelling piece of work.
Extras: An annoyingly thin amount of extras consisting mainly of TV spots and trailers, but amongst these is a very lively and informative Q & A with Refn which was conducted on the same day of his infamous appearance on BBC Breakfast. Refn offers a lot of insights into the production of the film and his influences, as well as his general approach to violence in film. It’s a terrific feature that almost makes up for the lack of anything else.
Drive is out on DVD now. See Drive trailer and features at www.drive-movie.com
words Edwin Davies