The Driver comes from somewhere. Where exactly is never established, but where he goes depends on what he gets paid. For the right price, the Driver is anybody’s to use. He knows the streets to him, the city is a river. His car is the water, and his route, the path of least resistance. He can outrun anyone driving anything, and that is what makes him the best at what he does.
So begins “Drive,” a neo-noir, crime drama adapted from the novel of the same name, and directed by Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn. As mentioned before, “Drive” follows the story of the Driver (Ryan Gosling), an unnamed character that excels in driving fast cars, at high speeds. Aside from being a masterful getaway-driver, he also works as a Hollywood stuntman and a mechanic.
Things are going normal for the Driver until a new neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), moves into the apartment next to his. The Driver and Irene do not speak until her car begins having troubles and she takes it to the same auto shop that he works at. With some prompting from his boss and friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston), Driver takes Irene and her young son Benicio on a drive around the city. The three of them have a great time, and Driver begins to open-up to Irene, having enjoyed their time together.
One week later, Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns home. Standard has been in prison for years. Contrary to standard scriptwriting procedure, Standard does not feel jealous or threatened by the tall, rugged man spending time with his wife, but rather, he sees a professional with whom he can pull-off a big score. Standard, with the help of some ne’er-do-wells, sets-up a heist, with Driver slated to be the group’s getaway. Things don’t go as planned, and when the consequences of his and Standard’s actions threaten to envelope Irene and Benicio, Driver does whatever it takes to keep them safe.
“Drive” is a simple film. Its plot is one of little depth. Very little time is spent providing reason or motive behind characters actions. It’s clear from the start who the bad guys are, and who the good guys are. “Drive” doesn’t aim to be surprising or radical in its storytelling. This makes it all the more astounding that the movie is so entertaining and memorable.
It’s hard to describe what about “Drive” makes it such a compelling movie to watch. The movie is very slow to get going, with an excellent car chase right out of the gate giving way to a long stretch of zero action. Most of the first half of the film is spent watching Driver, Irene and Benicio as they grow more attached to each other, and these scenes have very little dialogue.
When it gets going, however, “Drive” never lets up. The sudden influx of violence is jarring at first. What starts out as a seemingly tame movie, evolves into a visceral and violent, yet oddly stylish crime movie.
The acting in “Drive” is one of its greatest strengths. The performances are all very natural, with each character seemingly like a real person. Gosling in particular, completely sells his portrayal of the Driver.
The Driver is clearly not without desire or emotion, but it is all kept beneath the surface, implied, without ever being shown. He cares for Irene and her son, and his desire to protect them feels sincere. His actions paint the picture of a ruthless killer, but the sadness and tired in his eyes betray the disinterest of his demeanor. He is both a character brimming with personality, and one with almost none at all. Gosling gives the film a strong and dangerous lead that still feels entirely vulnerable.
Aside from an excellent array of licensed tracks, reflecting the Noir theme “Drive” aims for, composer Cliff Martinez has provided a superb original score, with some truly beautiful ambient pieces.
“Drive” is the kind of movie that shows there is elegance in simplicity. Everything it does works, from the incredible car chases, to the tense and gritty violence, and to the subtler, quieter moments.