Review: Drive


Synopsis:

“If I Drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours no matter what. I don’t sit in while you’re running it down; I don’t carry a gun… I Drive.” – Driver, Ryan Gosling

A Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong. The movie stars Ryan Gosling as the principal character and the supporting cast is rounded out by Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman. Drive is pegged as an action-drama/heist film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and adapted from the 2005 novel of the same name, by James Sallis.


Review: I knew of Drive based only from its mainstream theatrical poster and it was enough for me to want to possibly see Gosling in something different. I’ve given various films a chance on far less and it typically becomes one of those moments where you’re beside a theatre, the showtime is nearing and you simply say “why not.” I really had no idea what to expect, outside of being a slight car enthusiast I figured that also fit the bill on reasons of interest. Admittedly also, I had no prior knowledge of this film having been viewed at various festivals, nor was I aware of the praise and acclaim it had garnered from those viewings.

Marketing is an interesting thing.

Attach the tagline “From the Producer of ‘Wanted’” to the poster with the title of the film over a greasy engine it leaves you thinking one thing. Seeing a poster of Gosling looking out a window overlooking a city at night illuminated by neon lights with a 2011 Cannes Film Festival logo could possibly get me thinking something else. We watch movies because we love to. There are no real pre-requisites to how much you know about a film beforehand, outside of it perhaps being a sequel to understand plot. If you saw all the awesome trailers or have been a big fan of said actor, director, or the genre itself. When you sit down in a theatre, all those lines blur and you just become a part of the audience. When those credits role, the question asked is simple and the same for everyone.

With summer being over and the ‘blockbusters’ that came and went, I found Drive to sincerely be a breath of fresh air. It’s surprisingly intelligent in how referentially inspired the movie is, whether purposeful or by your own comparisons. Drive is essentially a modernized 80’s film of the action-drama genre.

You won’t find the action of films like Cobra (1986), Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and Tango & Cash (1989) but you’ll definitely see glorified violence in a visceral regard. Drive takes on an eerie resemblance, taking the ‘fantasy’ of the old 80’s action genre while adopting a sense of film noir, making the movie itself more realistic in nature than we are accustomed to. It’s almost cynical, but not quite because Drive is allowed the usage of modern filmmaking. The modern sensibilities come with the updated set design where everything is clean or just dirty enough and the locations are specific. The filming is exact, the direction is dramatic and the action is in your face. An inspired and/or original style exists throughout the movie, where even the costume design carries its own weight.

In a clear sense, there is an obvious precision in the film, from the opening hot pink ‘Risky Business (1983)’-esque typeface used and to that of the soft lighting in the Driver’s apartment to the contrast of a normal sunny day while driving along the LA river. The hard camera angle behind the Driver and the rearview mirror blocking our view of the road he drives, but not his own view of the road. We have no control over that, but Refn uses that type of cinematography to set the tone and atmosphere of the film. Add to this we have the carefully crafted soundtrack by Cliff Martinez which becomes organic, helping further set the mood, pacing and aide the void of quiet in the film, that ‘almost nerve racking please say
a word to break the silence.’ Yet unknowingly the silence of the movie becomes a crescendo, one that again purposefully mutes the volume.

And finally, when that first shotgun blast blares in the theatre, you know what’s happened – you hear it. Then the following scene visually confirms it.

Despite all the meticulous details expressed in Drive, it’s simple in nature and that’s probably the best thing about the movie. Each audience member makes their own reference material, love it or hate it Drive doesn’t pretend to be something else or in fact just can’t.

Overall: If it wasn’t apparent, I really enjoyed Drive. It might’ve been curious to see what Drive would have ended up as, had it been made in 2008 when Hugh Jackman was attached to star and Neil Marshall (2008’s Doomsday, The Descent franchise and Centurion in 2010) was set to direct. Instead the film went from being potentially big budget to a smaller $13 million budget starring Ryan Gosling and him hand picking Nicolas Winding Refn as the director.

I’ve always known Gosling to be a capable actor, I’ve followed him loosely throughout his career and I’m talking way back to the hay-day when he was on TV with Breaker High and Young Hercules. I’ve never been a Notebook guy and I think in fact it’s taken several viewings where I’ve watched the entire movie as a whole in pieces. I watched him in Murder by Numbers, watched Lars and the Real Girl. I’ve never seen Blue Valentine, no real intent to watch Ides of March and maybe down the road I’ll eventually get to Crazy, Stupid, Love.

If I’m trying to make a point here, I always figured Gosling could’ve been that next action star if he wanted to. Or at least dabbled in the genre infrequently, but he never did. I think he’s good at his craft, so it was cool to see him jumping into this type of role. Based from his interviews, he had wanted to do an action movie for awhile, but avoided the usual stunt-driven movies which have inherently defined the action role.

As Drive was heavily inspired, reading up on how Refn cited the Brothers’ Grimm Fairy Tales as a main source of inspiration was a curious approach. Drive as something of a modern day fairy tale brings a different mindset.

In his Q&A at Cannes, Refn stated:

“Two years ago I started to read Grimm fairy tales to my daughter and they’re very simplistic but also extremely complex. It’s minimalism — there’s almost no dialogue, it’s all about descriptions of emotions. The characters are always the same: there’s a prince or a knight, an innocent woman who’s extremely beautiful and pure and needs protection, an evil king or a witch. And that is essentially the DNA of the structure of “Drive.” It’s a fairy tale that takes Los Angeles as the background. The hero, Driver, is very easy in a sense: by day he’s a real human being, by night he’s a real hero. What is there to say, because his mystique is his strength.”

I wasn’t familiar with Refn before this film, but Drive definitely made me want to check out his earlier works with Bronson (2008) and Valhalla Rising (2009). I do think Drive must be watched, but not necessarily in the theatres. Simply because of the immersion it almost demands. The silence in the film I know can be overbearing for some and it definitely showed when I caught the movie opening weekend. Distractions, especially in silence, become more apparent despite how much you try to drown them out: the person rustling in their chair leading to the bathroom break, a person forgetting to put their phone on silent for a text alert or phone call or the unnerving impatience of someone twitching anxiously waiting for the action. It depends on the person, but that’s public movie watching, it’s uncontrolled. So if you want the ‘perfect’ atmosphere for viewing this film, maybe find an empty theatre one day or wait until you’re undisturbed in the comfort of your own home.

I give Drive a 9 out of 10

22 thoughts on “Review: Drive

  1. It’s unfortunate that they did a poor job of marketing “Drive,” because it was an exhilarating film that blew past all of my expectations, which were high to begin with. Most people were expecting the film to be like “Fast and the Furious,” but it took a more artistic and violent approach, which, to me, was better than anything that warn-out franchise has to offer. I’m hoping Refn has a promising career, because between this and “Bronson,” he may be a force to be reckoned with.

  2. Great reading your very thorough post plus articulate comments from your readers. So nice, no one called anyone a douche!
    I was blown away the first time I saw Drive; the over the top violence slapped me in the face but there was something so ethereal that I forgave the headsmashings and bloody, bloody, bloody jacket. I can see why Refn calls it a fairytale and frankly, from a female perspective, it really does go back to those roots of the hero saving the maiden. Much of the magic is Gosling – and ‘that quiet smile and wounded puppy’ look that 420band references, ain’t getting played out for female audiences. His adoring female fans seem to be multiplying if the growing number of websites devoted to the star are any indication. Probably most of us want another good old fashioned romance from the man – sans the violence and minus the too-sappy factor that The Notebook gave the tweenies.
    And you have to give him kudos for selecting Refn to direct; these two gave us something we haven’t seen onscreen before. You couldn’t get me in a theatre to watch Fast and Furious – it’s just not my genre. BUT I would watch anything these two put on screen in the future -even if it is Only God Forgives which sounds violent and awful but I think I can trust Refn and Gosling to deliver something beyond the brutality. In Drive it was a story with heroics and heart. One woman I know called it “a poem”. And as ridiculous as that may sound, I agree.

  3. If you didn’t like this movie, you can always try to sue.

    This is originally posted over at the Hollywood Reporter (7:16 PM PDT 10/8/2011 by Sophie Schillaci).

    FilmDistrict Sued Over ‘Misleading’ ‘Drive’ Trailer

    A Michigan woman was disappointed with the Ryan Gosling film, having expected “Fast and Furious” style thrills.

    Ryan Gosling’s crime drama Drive may have been a hit with critics, earning a score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, but one Michigan woman was so unhappy with the film — she’s suing.

    Sarah Deming has filed a lawsuit against FilmDistrict claiming that the distributors, “promoted the film Drive as very similar to the Fast and Furious, or similar, series of movies.”

    The film, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, sees Gosling as an unnamed stunt driver by day who moonlights as getaway driver by night. While the movie features a few impressive car scenes, the story centers mostly on the Driver’s relationship with Carey Mulligan’s character and several gruesome casualties along his journey to protect her family from harm.

    “Drive bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film… having very little driving in the motion picture,” the suit continues. “Drive was a motion picture that substantially contained extreme gratuitous defamatory dehumanizing racism directed against members of the Jewish faith, and thereby promoted criminal violence against members of the Jewish faith.”

    Deming is seeking a refund for her movie ticket, in addition to halting the production of “misleading movie trailers” in the future. The plaintiff intends to turn her individual case into a class action lawsuit, thereby allowing fellow movie-goers an opportunity to share in the settlement, reports Detroit’s WDIV-TV.

  4. I really enjoy the movie. The music the lighting is just superb, I’m loving it. I feel that if you listen to the music 1st without seeing the movie, the songs just seem normal, nothing really outstanding but with the movie. The emotion, feeling, the music all just connect and came alive but I won’t surprise that some people find this movie not what they would think of an action movie, i guess.

  5. A nice review! I saw it the other night and was pleasantly surprised. I found the pacing a little slow but was constantly drawn into the story through Gosling’s character. He played out very much like an anti hero, good intentions wrapped in a psycho.

    We’ll be reviewing it via podcast in a few weeks on Planet Kibi.

  6. This was one of the best movies I have seen in a while. Everything from the cinematography to the dialogue to the characters to the retro music and most importantly the flow was just plain brilliant. I absolutely love everything about this movie.

  7. Listen the guy has chops, But that quite smile and wounded puppy look is gettin played out, Grant it, the film had a good retro (80’s anyay) vibe but was not enough to be called great. and as for the silence, I can appreciate from time to time in a movie, But this was kinda unbearable in spots.

    must re-watch and see what I missed I guess…..

  8. I don’t see Nick Cage here unless you are just talking about their jaw lines? I thought “Drive” was great…just what I needed in a film right now. If you really want to see what was on Gosling’s and Refn’s playlists before making this film check out Michael Mann’s “Thief” …especially for font ideas…and possibly Walter Hill’s “The Driver” with the stoic Ryan O’neil. All in all I loved this film and can’t wait to own it on the blue, that said, in retrospect it isn’t a perfect film now for me. Refn talked about being influenced by super hero characters and fairy tales. You can sort of see that in some aspects of Gosling’s character: the jacket, his sort of having no past, and his single minded devotion to the damsel all sort of speak to that. I don’t know if the shift in tones completely work for me. What do I mean by that? well if the movie is trying to be a movie, if Gosling is being a movie star, if the film is a bit self aware with its hero songs and hero jacket and Gosling sort stoic in the classic movie sense, this all points to the fact that the movie is self-aware, it knows it is a movie and it is ok with it, it isn’t trying for a reality but a slight surreality. So what is the problem? well it switches to the all too visceral foot stomping scene (with extra help from Gaspar Noe) and it is no longer the 80’s action riff it is switched into nightmare mode. I don’t think this ruins it for me, I am not even saying that I don’t like it but it does take you out of it a bit.

      1. Not sure about the Nic Cage reference? Haven’t seen Nic Cage in a movie where he drives cars fast? no?

        How about a Nic Cage movie where he plays some bad ass guy that’s “laid back” on the outside but friggin nuts on the inside? no?

        you need some references? ;-)

  9. Excellent job! I agree with your view of Gosling. After The Notebook, he could have easily gone the route of cheesy action flicks. I see him more as the next Nicolas Cage. Campy at times, but always a great actor. Well done.

    1. “I see him more as the next Nicolas Cage”. Ouch. Let’s hope not…Cage is a very capable actor, but it’s almost been 10 years since his last good film/performance (2002’s “Adaptation”).

      1. Nic Cage in Matchstick Men was very good too. Same could be said for Bad Lietuitant Port of Call New Orleans. However, I don’t see any relation to Cage…thats just way off. Gosling is simply his own.

  10. I saw it here at TIFF, and it’s an amazing flick. You hit it precisely concerning its 80’s reminiscence. A totally engaging flick.

    Do yourself a favour and watch Blue Valentine; it’s eerie and endearing at the same time. Gosling is brilliant in it, as is Michelle Williams.

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