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21st Dec 11
A nameless Driver must protect a young woman and her child after an attempt to end her convict husband’s debts goes terribly wrong.
The marauding gunslinger. The masterless samurai. The nameless Driver. Introduced in the neon-lit City of Angels driving, of all things, a Chevy Impala is Ryan Gosling’s classical hero, aptly unnamed throughout. He is a meticulous professional with a strict code of conduct, without a past and devoted to classical chivalry that allows him to smash in an assailant’s face just as soon as he wordlessly professes his love for the innocent maiden. As College repeats over the soundtrack, he’s a real hero, albeit one with one hell of a temper.
Nicolas Winding Refn has crafted a tough film to critique, not unlike his previous efforts, most notably Bronson and Valhalla Rising. His polarizing mix of artsy quiet moments and abrasive violence might be hard to stomach for most viewers accustomed to more mainstream fare. It’s actually no surprise that this would be the movie to provoke a woman to sue the studio for a misleading trailer, as what most would assume to be a no-holds-barred chase flick is really a slow burn love letter to the silent heroes of yesteryear.
Backing up Gosling in this addition to his endless list of hits are Carey Mulligan as his neighbor love interest, Bryan Cranston as his mentor and the double threat of Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman as the antagonists. Each one of these critical darlings plays a character worthy of their own feature films. Hossein Amini’s script, based on the fairly bland novel by James Sallis, is crafted in such a way that each character’s pathos brings more weight to Drive, each in their special way, so that no scene goes without intrigue.
Of these, the most notable must be Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose, a rich ex-film producer with a lot of wear and tear in his past. This is not a man to be fucked with, a fact we are reminded of time and time again, whether he is handling Perlman’s Jewish Italian restaurant owner’s brash attitude or keeping up with his various business investments. While he has a few humorous lines, in the end he is just as serious and principled as the Driver, going so far as to possibly be what the Driver has to look forward to in the future after the sins of his past and the violence of the world catch up with him.
Meanwhile, Gosling and Mulligan make for attractive leads, not only on account of being some of the best looking people in Hollywood but also in that they carry an entire love story mostly without words. Opting out of the scripted dialogue, the two instead trade glances and body language to tell their romance. This was a big risk, but one that manages to pay off in spades as the quiet tone contrasts perfectly with the ultraviolence sprinkled throughout.
As to the action implied in the trailers, the few car chases and stunts in the film are, considering Refn has never had a drivers license, quite enjoyable. While they are nothing extraordinary, and pale in comparison to those seen in films like Fast Five, the energy behind the shots and sound design give them an extra boost you simply wouldn’t see handled by a lesser director. In the end, I can’t help but slightly agree with some critics that the film could have used more action sequences and could have done so without sacrificing its slow burn aesthetic. The more gruesome violence also helps the audience forget about the high speed pursuits.
Lastly, the soundtrack. Oh baby, this thing is hot. While Cliff Martinez has crafted an excellent, low key score, it’s the use of songs that really helps the film soar. Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx’s “Nightcall”, Desire’s “Under Your Spell”, and College’s “A Real Hero” teamed with a handful of others provide a beautifully retro feel with modern music. The film is simply timeless, and that’s in no small part to these perfect choices.
This review has barely touched on the plot and minute details of the film because it seems like a crime to do so. Go in as fresh as possible and experience some of the most captivating noir available. Drive’s powerhouse performances, flawless direction and use of music compliment a beautiful story of romance and violence, and craft a modern noir deserving of its rapidly forming cult status.
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