Based on a novel by James Sallis, Drive is the story of a Hollywood stunt driver who works as a getaway driver at night. When he meets and falls for a young woman, his life starts to get into trouble when he gets involved for a robbery that goes wrong as he seeks answers on what is really going on. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and an adapted screenplay by Hossein Amini, the film is an ode to the dark films of Los Angeles of the 1980s as well as the car films of the 1970s. Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Oscar Issac, Christina Hendricks, and Albert Brooks. Drive is a hypnotic yet hard-boiled film from Nicolas Winding Refn.
An unnamed driver (Ryan Gosling) works as a Hollywood driving stuntman and mechanic by day while his occasional night job is being a driver for robbers for about five minutes. With help from his friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who sets up the jobs, the driver doesn’t say much other than do his job. The driver’s life is a quiet one as he runs into his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio as they meet up every once in a while at their building. The driver starts to befriend Irene and Benicia (Kaden Leos) as they begin to enjoy each other’s company while Shannon introduces the driver to a mob boss named Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his partner Nino (Ron Perlman). Bernie wants the driver to drive his stock car for riches with the driver asking little in return.
When Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Issac) is released from jail, the driver meets Standard as things seem fine until he finds Standard lying in a hallway beaten. Realizing that Standard is in trouble due to some money he still owes and Benicio being threatened, the driver is asked by Standard to take a job. The driver reluctantly does so as he meets Standard’s boss Cook (James Biberi) for instructions as the driver takes Standard and a woman named Blanche (Christina Hendricks) to rob a pawn shop. Things seem to go well until another car appears as everything falls apart. When the driver learns that it’s a set-up, he wants answers as he figures out that the money stolen belongs to someone else. With Irene and Benicio in danger, the driver decides to confront the people who are behind everything.
The film is about a quiet yet very professional driver who has a job and just does without any questions or answers. When he is asked to take part of a robbery to help someone, he unknowingly gets involved into something much bigger that threatens the life he lives in as well as the woman and child he cares for. The premise that screenwriter Hossein Amini creates is pretty simple yet the stakes and everything that the unnamed driver has to go to is very big. While he has a guy that sets up things for him, it’s only about money but when it doesn’t just involve money. It becomes much more complicated when it involves the mob and other sordid criminals as it’s only the driver becomes the target.
The script has elements of films like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai in the way the driver is portrayed. He is this stoic, observant man that does something and keeps his mouth shut. Yet, unlike Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and Jef Costello in Le Samourai, the driver is a much more accessible person that doesn’t say a lot and keeps things simple. He doesn’t seem like the threatening individual but when provoked, all hell breaks loose. The driver is a very complex character as Amini creates a character that is very interesting in the way he does things. He always wears gloves when he’s driving while on the job, he has a watch with a timer as if he is a cab driver with the meter running and his time is very precious and limited. Amini’s script works to create a character as provocative as the driver while others such as Irene, Shannon, and Bernie are just as interesting.
Irene is just a young mother who also craves something simple as she finds solace in the driver though the return of her husband makes her a bit uneasy due to his criminal past. While Standard isn’t a bad guy and is a good father, he’s just someone that Irene wants to believe that he’s still good but knows something isn’t going to go right. Shannon is a character that is someone that just wants to set-up the job and get his cut while hoping for good things as he has a long-term relationship with Bernie. Bernie is a mob boss that also has a simple way of things as he doesn’t want complications as he has a similar idea of doing things like the driver. When things go wrong, Bernie becomes a monster that no one expects. The script Amini creates is amazing for its study and the suspense that is made for a film like this as there’s a great balance of human drama and unsettling chills for its crime elements.
The direction of Nicolas Winding Refn is very evocative for the way he presents the film in such grand style. Taking ode from the films of 1980s Los Angeles films like William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. and Paul Schrader‘s American Gigolo, Refn creates something is very entrancing and seductive to stylistic element of the film. There are a lot of aerial shots of the city that makes it truly out of this world where it’s about finding the right location to hide in and give the film a look that is indescribably haunting. There’s a lot of scenes shot at night to play up the visual style of the film while some of the daytime scenes are very straightforward.
Refn’s approach to the fast-car scenes and some of the violent moments are very stylized with the latter being very brutal and almost nihilistic. The car chases and fast-car scenes are presented in a style that is sort of reminiscent of Hollywood blockbuster films but Refn allows the audience to know what’s going while maintaining a certain rhythm to the film. Refn’s direction also has scenes where he plays things much simpler in terms of how he frames things while bringing something that is elegant before something bad is to happen. Refn is always engaged by what is happening as he doesn’t pull punches nor does he underplay anything. The overall presentation and emphasis on style that Refn needed for a film like this is truly the work of a filmmaker that can bring something to the table and make it fresh to a genre like the car-driven crime film.
Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel does a phenomenal job with the film’s stylish photography that adds to the eerie look of the film. From the many exterior nighttime scenes of Los Angeles filled with an array of lights from the locations and helicopters of the film. Sigel also plays up the style for some of the nighttime interiors including the elevators as well as a slightly-colorful look to the daytime interior and exterior settings, with the exception of a small scene in a ravine, as it’s definitely one of the film’s technical highlights. Editor Matthew Newman does a great job with the film’s stylized editing with the use of fast-paced jump-cuts for the driving scenes to dissolves for more dreamier montages in the film.
Production designer Beth Mickle, with set decorator Lisa K. Sessions & art director Christopher Tandon, do some nice work on some of the set pieces created such as Shannon‘s garage, the apartments that the driver and Irene live in, and the pizza place owned by Nino. Costume designer Erin Benach does a very good job with the costumes from the casual clothes many of the characters wear to the sliver jacket with a scorpion on the back that the driver wears. Sound editors Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis do an amazing job with the sound work to capture the sound of cars and various other things in the varied locations that is presented in the film.
The film’s score by Cliff Martinez is a real highlight of the film for its brooding yet atmospheric electronic score. Featuring more intense, pulsating pieces to exotic, ambient cuts, Martinez’s score serves as a chilling accompaniment to the world of the driver. The soundtrack features various electronic-driven pieces from Desire, the Chromatics, College featuring Electric Youth, Kavinsky featuring CSS & Lovefoxx, and Riz Ortolani with Katyna Ranieri that adds to the 80s vibe that Refn wants for the film as the overall score and soundtrack is truly mesmerizing.
The casting by Mindy Marin is superb for the ensemble that is created that includes small appearances from Russ Tamblyn as a doctor, James Biberi as the small-time crime boss Cook, and Jeff Wolfe as a henchman of Bernie. Other notable small but memorable appearances include Christina Hendricks as a fellow criminal, Oscar Issac as Irene’s troubled husband Standard, and Kaden Leos as Irene’s son Benicio. Ron Perlman is excellent as the more brash yet violent Nino while Bryan Cranston is great as the driver’s friend Shannon who tries to help the driver when things start to go wrong.
Albert Brooks is phenomenal as Bernie Rose, a mob boss who wants the driver to be his number one guy only to find out that things are going his way where Brooks show a side of him that is very unsettling as it’s definitely a surprising performance from the comic actor. Carey Mulligan is wonderful as Irene, a young waitress and mother who finds comfort in the presence of the driver as she deals with her husband’s return and the chaos that surrounds her. Finally, there’s Ryan Gosling in a tour-de-force performance as the unnamed driver. Gosling brings a real cool yet nearly-silent performance as a quiet man who does things in a simple yet disciplined manner. Gosling allows himself to be a badass without really doing but speak in a calm but confrontational manner. When the character gets pushed, Gosling becomes a total badass that no one should fuck with. It’s definitely a performance that is truly spectacular as it truly adds to Ryan Gosling’s great reputation for putting out amazing performances in film.
Drive is an outstanding film from Nicolas Winding Refn featuring a haunting yet exhilarating performance from Ryan Gosling. Armed with a great ensemble cast that includes Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, and Albert Brooks plus amazing technical work and Cliff Martinez’s hypnotic score. It’s a film that is extremely intoxicating to look at as well as being tough and giving a new spin to the professional hitman/driver sub-genre. While it’s a more mainstream film from Refn, it is a film that is still edgy for the way he gives the film a presentation that is definitely one-of-a-kind. In the end, Drive is a flat-out intense yet mesmerizing film from Nicolas Winding Refn.
Nicolas Winding Refn Films: Pusher - Bleeder - Fear X - Pusher II - Pusher 3 - Bronson - Valhalla Rising - Only God Forgives - The Neon Demon - The Auteurs #12: Nicolas Winding Refn
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