you are looking for wall-to-wall CGI effects,
bodies piling up in the streets, and
one-dimensional characters, stay away from
Danish director Nicholas Refn's intelligent
character study, Drive. Based on a novel by
James Sallis and adapted for the screen by
Hossein Amini, Drive is not a fast-paced action
thriller but, in spite of its violence, a film
of style and mood that has a European feel to
it, in the tradition of Melville's Le Samourai.
Ryan Gosling, in one of his best performances,
is a reticent garage mechanic and movie stunt
driver during the day, but at night, a getaway
driver for small-time crooks. We are offered no
information on his background or how he came to
be where he is. He is called only the driver
because he drives.
The film opens with a stunning sequence in which
the driver commands a getaway car after a theft
by two hoodlums. He manages to elude police by
using his knowledge of the L.A. city streets and
by being just a bit cleverer than those who are
pursuing him in their cars and helicopters.
Drive takes a different turn when the
tight-lipped loner forms a tentative connection
with his next door neighbor, single mom Irene
(Carey Mulligan) and her young son Benecio
(Kaden Leos). Although she will not turn against
her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) who is in
prison, the driver's interest helps her to go on
with her life.
Supported by an eclectic soundtrack, the first
half of the film is quiet but filled with
palpable tension. The driver is a reticent man
who shows little surface emotion, but we can
sense that underneath he is an explosive device,
wired and waiting to detonate. When he does, we
may wish for the quiet time. Though the film
belongs to Gosling who establishes himself as
one of the premier actors of our day, Drive also
has a superb secondary cast that includes Albert
Brooks and Ron Perlman as a menacing crime duo.
When Standard is released, instead of having a
fit of jealousy, he accepts the driver's offer
to help him fend off some of these crime
kingpins to whom he is in big trouble because of
an unpaid debt.
Standard and the driver concoct a scheme to rob
a pawn shop, but it is not well thought out and
goes very wrong, putting the driver on his
heels, having to avoid the determined thugs who
are now relentlessly pursuing him. The driver is
now up against ruthless killers, and must use
all of his mental and physical attributes to
stay alive and protect the people in his life he
most cares about. Drive has a lot of violence,
but it is not the kind of dehumanized violence
that we see so often in the movies, the kind
that deadens our feelings and atrophies our
moral sense of human worth. Refn doesn't hold
back on the blood, but makes us feel its
repellent horror and agony even though we know
that, for the driver, it is kill or be killed.
Drive may often be difficult to watch, but if
you give it the green light, you may find a
sweet payoff at the end of the road.