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Drive (2011) | Review

Drive is a film unlike any other, and a strong contender for my film of the year. Let’s start by saying it’s a cool film, a very cool film but not through its association with the popular, but adversely for its position outside the mainstream with its finger raised at some common and tired conventions. This is no Fast & The Furious (a fact that has upset many cinema-goers), this is a violent, brutal, beautiful achievement from director, Nicholas Winding Refn.

The plot revolves around an un-named driver (Gosling), who keeps his head down by day working as a stunt man or mechanic, but come nightfall, moonlights as a wheelman for the criminal riff-raff of the city. A gradual, platonic love soon develops between the Driver and his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, Benicio. However, it’s not long before Irene’s incarcerated husband, Standard (Oscar Issac) returns and finds himself at the mercy of sharks who demand one last job. In a selfless bid to protect the life of Benicio, the Driver offers his help as Standard’s wheelman for the heist, however, things go wrong when they’re double-crossed and the Driver has to embark on a violent spree to free himself of the contract that now lies on his life too.

The Driver eschews the common archetype for wheelmen, he’s methodical and cunning, and not a gun-toting speed freak intent on ramping up the testosterone level in the audience. His driving is tactical and measured; a perfect reflection of his character, who barely utters 100 words in the entire film. The lack of dialogue may cause a lesser film to feel lifeless, and dull, however what Gosling lacks in words, he more than makes up for in intensity. Even in the many silences throughout the film, you’ve not been abandoned, you’re merely poised waiting for a release. This is further perpetuated by Refn’s lean directing style, where no shot is wasted; what some films would say in two, three or four shots, Refn says in one. These long shots combined with the sparse dialogue, produce a sense of agitation in the audience (but by no means in a negative way). Refn works the viewers in to a frenzy, in a similar fashion to Hitchcock’s parable about the bomb under the table.

The sense of agitation is further compounded by the editing, refusing to comply with a natural beat. We often see Gosling or Mulligan staring intently offscreen, and just when you expect a cut….Refn leaves you hanging for a second longer, you see the emotion dawn in the characters eyes or face, and then, you get your cut. This mood leaves you tense throughout the whole film, you’re perpetually coiled waiting for some release from the characters and every crash, or gunshot reverberates through you.

Whilst we’re on the subject, let’s discuss the sound. Drive is undoubtedly a film that will lose some of its poignancy when viewed outside the cinema. Mirroring the restrained dialogue and diagetic sound within the film, the music remains low and tense, but every now and then, the film delivers a shocking blow. The work on the sound is first-class, specific sounds effects are louder, and incredibly visceral; the sound of leather gloves gripping a hammer, the noise of a fist splitting a skull and even the common gunshot sounds more real and more damn terrifying than anything I’ve experienced before. It’s these sounds that shock you to the core, playing on the tension you’ve built up in the long silences, and throwing you out of your comfort zone.

Before signing off, it has to be said that the film looks stunning. Thanks to cinematographer, Newton Thomas Spigel, the film is covered with a retro-noir aesthetic that, and I have to use the word again, is just so damn cool. The lighting is beautiful and the steely exteriors of the cars that are featured prominently, mirror the soul of our protagonist, and the film in its entirety.

When the credits come to roll, you’ll find yourself releasing a huge breath, feeling you’ve just undergone a hugely cathartic experience. Drive plays merry hell with your nerves, and as long as you’re the kind of cinema-goer that likes to feel something when watching your film, you’ll enjoy the wringing the film will give you.
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  • Simon Jones

    Absolutely adored Drive’s style but didn’t feel there was much else to get my teeth into. You open with “Drive is a film unlike any other” yet I found myself constantly reminded of The Transporter and similar b-movie fare, the key difference being that Drive is told with grace and delicacy (even with the violence) rather than brutal bullishness.

    The plot reads like any cheesy straight-to-video: getaway driver with a set of Important Rules falls in love with a girl, but – oh! – her husband is a criminal and is about to get out of jail. Hijinks ensure as he goes on ‘one last job’ and bites off more than he can chew!

    It comes down to how important that style is for you, I think. I loved it but wanted a bit more substance.

    As an experiment I’d love to give Drive’s script to somebody like Paul Anderson or Renny Harlin to see what would happen. 🙂

    • Ryan Stone

      Thanks for commenting Simon.
      Interestingly I felt the complete opposite with regards to its substance or lack thereof. For me, I see B-movies as films that pander to audiences and are awash with scenes of gratifications for both the viewers and the stars. They get the money, and the girl and kill the bad guys and there’s plenty of action along the way. Drive however, never did that and the protagonist is motivated by his own sense of integrity and personal values (which revolve more around Benicio than Irene) than the money or the girl.

      If something as intangible as personal values is the main driving force of the movie, then the protagonist does need to articulate more, and yeah, I concede that given Gosling barely said a word, you could argue that there was nothing to get your teeth in to. I felt that the lingering shots and even some of the silences managed to convey his intentions and emotions and so, you while you have to work harder to connect, I do think there’s something to connect to.

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