Drive is truly a trip worth taking.
It’s quiet. There are maybe 30 lines of dialogue in the first act. The only way to really understand what’s going on is either by paying attention to a subtle smirk, or the way the actors carry themselves on screen, or the catchy soundtrack that does more than induce foot tapping and head bobbing like you’ve heard the song a million times. All of these elements help get across the point of what’s happening on the screen. Eventually the dialogue begins to flow from some of the best supporting characters in recent time, and perhaps some of the best actors of our day (I’m looking at you, Cranston). A forbidden relationship is conveyed through glances and smiles. There are also three amazing chase sequences that have you on the edge of your seat. Drive is something to be marveled at, not just for its intense and captivating story, but also for its cinematic brilliance.
The story is relatively simple. Nameless Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a prodigy behind the wheel. Working in a garage by day and moonlighting as a getaway driver with a strict set of rules, he inadvertently gets on the mob’s bad side when he reluctantly tries to help his neighbor’s husband get out of a bad situation. Following one of the most suspenseful scenes in movie history, he tries to pick up the pieces to hopefully find some peace for his beautiful yet out of reach neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan). This is when the movie gets crazy. With a twist that might be blatant to any film noir buff out there, it still is a shock and surprise that definitely makes your stomach drop. This is when the film kicks into high gear and becomes brutal yet tasteful, and oddly beautiful in its savagery.
It’s truthful, or as truthful as a movie can be, in that it’s serious where other movies are campy. There are dramatic shootouts and scenes of death, but they never seem overdone and a lot of that is owed to the brilliantly cast villains, Albert Brooks and Ron Pearlman. The only thing I can even think to complain about when it comes to the performances is Christina Hendricks’ minimal, yet powerful, screen time. She’s honestly too beautiful in this movie to have her in it for what seems like five minutes. It’s really like 15 minutes but still, you’ll get where I’m coming from when you see her. Stunning.
I don’t want to give too much away, and I won’t, but much is conveyed in this movie through body language. I don’t think most directors would be able to pull this off, even though a lot think they can but end up failing miserably. Nicolas Winding Refn isn’t just any director, however. With movies like the kinetic and talkative Bronson, the cerebral and violent Valhalla Rising (which featured a completely silent main character), and his Pusher series, he’s developed a style that is minimal yet beautiful and effective in tone and storytelling. He uses that skill and makes Gosling’s Driver character so effective and attention-grabbing that he draws you in, and then when you actually see him speak on screen for the first time you’re not only surprised, but shocked at how his voice is actually quieter than the way he carries himself. Now, you can’t have a movie with a bunch of silent people and I’m pretty sure Refn knows that. That’s where Bryan Cranston, who plays the Driver’s perpetually down-on-his-luck father figure, comes in. Even though he’s just a supporting character, he makes you feel and cheer for him, hoping things turn in his favor.
For what the characters don’t say, the movie speaks volumes by way of its soundtrack. With an ’80s dance and electronic-inspired sound for most of the movie, it sometimes takes over and is all that you hear, which builds suspense extremely successfully. Not only does it make you nervous, it also has times where the repetitive beats and lyrics are actually telling the story of two people falling for each other. The music was sometimes more effective than the dialogue.
The ads I’ve been seeing for this movie are branding it like a Fast and the Furious type blockbuster, when really it has so much more substance (and a whole lot less cheese) than anything in that category. It’ll give you your action fix for sure, but it doesn’t stop there. Taking a cue from classics like Bullit and Vanishing Point, it has some amazing chase sequences. There are three distinct chases, all with different pacing, yet all equally entrancing. It opens up with one of the most suspenseful and cool car chases ever that really shows you just how confident and good our hero is. But it’s not just about high-octane kicks, there’s a heartwarming love story intertwined with a tragic revenge tale. This contrast in themes works so unexpectedly well in the astonishingly stunning backdrop of Los Angeles. It really gives a whole new meaning to “the city of angels.”
I could truthfully go on for days explaining how this movie made me feel, but that would ruin the trip. Go ahead, sit down, and strap yourself in. Drive offers an experience not to be taken for granted. It’s rare a movie straddles the line of pretentiousness and confidence and comes out the better for it. It knows it’s good, but it doesn’t boast. It just is. It already knows I’m going to give it five nerdskulls. Hell, I’d give it ten if I could. You’ll just have to take the ride yourself. Just make sure you’re wearing your seatbelt.