Review: Drive

Drive movie posterDrive
Directed by: Nicholas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Cary Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks
Distributed by: Pinnacle Films

The joke is that a woman wanted to sue US distributor FilmDistrict about this film due to false advertising. The trailer promised car chases and stunts, yet it had “very little driving”, plus is “anti-semitic”. True, for point one anyway. Drive isn’t an action film. It’s Grand Theft Auto: Broken Families.

Everyone remembers the high-impact setpieces from Tarantino’s string of ‘cool’ movies, while ignoring the vast tracts of nothing in them. Audiences will be forever struck by some of the same kind of vignettes in Drive. The difference is, Nicholas Winding Refn’s (Bronson) conspicuously European (he’s Danish) pacing actually defines Drive and ratchets up the tension and the impact exponentially.

It’s possible because Refn doesn’t fill his drawn-out pregnant pauses with Tarantino’s trademark jibber-jabber. Gosling’s character, a virtually silent stunt/getaway driver, spends three-quarters of the film gazing, musing, unblinking. The extended cruising while he considers the situations he’s got tangled in – the Jewish mob, an eligible woman whose husband is in jail and her doe-eyed son, various lowlife scum – is shot in a permanent midnight, punctured by the wincing neon lights of LA, harkening back to that stark, digital horror of Michael Mann’s Collateral.

There was very little humour in that film, and there’s very little in this. The violent scenes, and they’re very intimate in a film often boxed in by darkness, are pretty shocking. Ron Perlman and the usually avuncular Albert Brooks put in terrific performances as uncompromising gangsters, Cranston (of Breaking Bad infamy) is equally good as a tremulous mentor for Gosling’s character, who is only ever mentioned as the driver.

Gosling, of course, is in a difficult situation. He has to spend vast tracts of the film in grim contemplation, interspersed with flashes of brutality. He does as well as a fine-featured, blond man can. Some of the most striking moments are subtly his; a flicker of a smile, a silent gesture, and the final, excruciating shot.

That’s where Drive works, in that its best moments make the audience work. That chick above was stimulated enough to threaten legal action, but not enough to be absorbed by a glacial three-minute reaction shot. When we’re sweating, egged on by the deep heartbeat soundtracking, Drive is golden. When, for some reason, Refn decided to taunt the audience by inserting corny ‘80s electro-pop numbers that almost describe the narrative, as well as the hot pink Staccato font titles and Gosling’s ever-bloodier silk racing jacket, we are quickly snapped out of the hypnosis.

This mocks all his hard work, deflating a tense thriller by pretending it’s a noir parody… like the original version of Michael Mann’s adaptation: Miami Vice. Remove this already doubly dated tackiness, and Drive could emerge as an impossibly stylish, uber-violent cult landmark.

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