Hands down the coolest film of 2011, Drive is a stylised genre film where the genre is constantly changing.
October 24, 2011
Two things to say up front.
Firstly, Drive is the coolest film of 2011. Backed by an ultra cool soundtrack (think Bladerunner meets TRON), it's the story of a cool guy (Ryan Gosling) who wears cool clothes, says cool things and — perhaps most importantly — drives cars (which are, in general, cool).
Secondly, you must not watch the trailers. None of them. Without exception they reveal every single plot point for the entire movie. Whoever produced them should be dragged out back and made to watch The Last Airbender on repeat. They're basically what the trailer for The Sixth Sense would've been had it opened with the kid declaring: "I see dead people. Oh and Bruce, while we're on the subject…" That's not to say Drive is a 'twist movie', but its suspense rests heavily on the periodic revelations and plot turns that throw the ever-in-control protagonist into an increasingly out of control predicament.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn whose previous films include Valhalla Rising and Bronson, Drive is an ode to the classic loner-hero movies of Eastwood and McQueen, coupled with the desolate crime tales of Michael Mann and Scorcese, then rounded out with some ultra-stylised Tarantino violence. In short: it's a genre film where the genre is constantly changing. Drive is part chase movie, except that the most exciting example is the opening scene in which Gosling's character deftly evades the police with guile and subtelty rather than speed and aggression. It's also part romance, except that the love interest, played with beguiling tenderness by Carey Mulligan, is already married and mother to a young boy.
The performances are fantastic across the board, with Gosling and Mulligan in particular achieving an extraordinary chemistry despite having very few lines of dialogue between them. Strong supporting roles are also provided by Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks, with Brooks almost certainly enjoying the lion's share of witty one-liners throughout.
As the film throws to the final credits the repeated lyric of 'real human being and a real hero' offers an interesting perspective on the story that's preceded it. Drive is heavily stylised but it somehow remains altogether personal and even relatable. It's a very human story about very real people. Whether Gosling's character is also a 'hero' or not, though, depends on your understanding of the term. There's no doubting his courage and selflessness, but his methods are far removed from the kind of stoic acts you'd tell your grandchildren as bedtime stories. The result is a somewhat emotionally ambiguous transformation from sympathetic nice guy to violent avenger that might seem out of place were it not just so impossibly, impossibly cool.