In the briefest of moments, especially as the summer starts to slowly dwindle away from our eyes, the cinema theaters can offer rare moments of vividness and intensity. Not so often, a film will come through, set the screens ablaze, and become an instant classic for years to come; Drive is this year’s film. Academy Award nominated actor Ryan Gosling portrays the principle character, a stunt driver for movies who moonlights as a getaway driver. “Driver” as we will affectionately call Gosling’s character, encapsulates the very being of a tortured soul with a heart of gold. What has lacked in our day of cinema that can leave much to be desired is simple character development. Not sure if it’s the studios just going for a quick buck or if its writer/directors not giving the audience more credit than it deserves, but Drive remains both puzzling but equally satisfying in developing a character that shows nearly nothing and convinces us in a single moment like we’ve known him our entire lives.
Nicolas Winding Refn, who jumped on the beat in 2008 for the British hit Bronson (2008), helms this film with precise and utter command. Refn’s stylistic approach to directing is in the near top of films I’ve witnessed this new decade. His choices are luminous and sheer brilliant and stand next to the greats of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and even Alfred Hitchcock. He lets scenes speak for themselves as he holds onto silence, shadows, and music like armor on top of a bullet proof vest. It’s the most worthy turn of Oscar consideration I’ve seen this year. He covers all his bases and coaches Ryan Gosling into developing one of the greatest performances of his career yet. He’s subtle, subdued, and nearly unavailable for us to engage with but he speaks volumes, yelps poignantly, and gives us a peep hole sized view into the real “Driver. The adaptation from James Sallis’ book written by Oscar nominated writer Hossein Amini (The Wings of the Dove, 1997) is pitch perfect in pace and while the narrative isn’t as wrapped up as tightly as one would hope, it’s still an impressive feat for any writer.
While Drive is owned solely by Ryan Gosling, the film’s ensemble turns in outstanding work particularly Academy Award nominees Carey Mulligan and Albert Brooks. Brooks brings in an almost ‘can’t recognize him’ type performance as he completely loses himself and transforms into a vicious and terrifying character. He takes his dark side to a whole new level. Mulligan is sensuous and electrifying holding her own against Gosling. Bryan Cranston is charismatic as ever. Ron Perlman’s idiosyncrasies and commitment to the character is some of his best work to date. Oscar Isaac delivers fiery magic in his brief screen time.
Drive acts like an 80’s movie that got raped by A Clockwork Orange and this was the result. It inhabits a wonderful narrative that may seem familiar but translated as a film haiku of sorts that by movie’s end, you won’t realize the ride you’ve just endured.