Drive is a 2011 genre-mashing film adapted from the 2005 novel of the same name written by James Sallis. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Pusher trilogy) and starring Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine), Carey Mulligan (An Education) and Albert Brooks, the film is set in L.A in an ambiguous time period and follows the Driver, a movie stuntman by day and a getaway driver by night.
The prologue and first scene proper show both a robbery getaway and a dangerous movie stunt being performed, immediately establishing up the split occupations of the character. Whilst the Driver's manager Shannon (Bryan Cranston) attempts to negotiate a racing career as well, a relationship is struck up between the Driver and his neighbour Irene (Mulligan) and son Benicio. However the budding romance is soon put on hold when Irene's husband Standard is released from prison and is forced to do one more job to pay off his debts and protect his family. As the Driver is already emotionally attached to Irene and Benicio he's forced to provide his driving services to get the job done and resolve the families problems. Of course, things aren't that simple and a quick getaway job leads the Driver to become involved in a mob war and a brutal fight for survival.
Gosling's performance is the outstanding centrepiece of the film. His brilliantly underplayed delivery of what little dialogue he has creates a real enigma around the character which is fascinating to watch. Most of the time, it's what the Driver doesn't say that tells you the most about the character and his motive. Initially played as a quiet but honourable man, the more violent the film becomes, the more we see the true nature of the character and what he's capable of. The fact that you never really get to know the character is a brave and interesting technique, used to great effect.
Stylistically the film also excels, not set in any particular era but clearly influenced by the 80s. This results in one of the best soundtracks in quite some time (depending on your penchant for synthesized music) whether it be uber-cool synth pop songs provided by College and Kavinsky or Cliff Martinez's brooding original score. The diversity of genres is something to behold. It is reasonable to call Drive a film noir, a crime thriller, a horror movie, a B-movie and an action film but never does the film linger on any of these long enough to be pigeon-holed. Drive takes all these elements and forges it's own style becoming an instantly iconic work.
This is a film influenced by so many genres, styles and cultural elements but through it's ambition and bravery manages to achieve something so rarely seen in contemporary cinema, it is a completely original piece of film. I watched the film twice in the same week and both times it knocked me back and delivered what every movie fan is looking for. When those credits roll, you know you've seen something really special. It's definitely worth checking out Winding Refn's other notable film Bronson (2008) as it's thematically closest to this film. However, it is Drive that has made stars out of the director and Gosling and will stand as the first instant classic of the decade and a benchmark for other films to follow in the coming years.
5 Stars *****
What did you think of Drive? Has it been over-hyped?