Movie Information

The Story: A stuntman who moonlights as a criminal wheelman gets involved in a heist -- which ultimately goes wrong -- in order to keep his neighbor and her son safe. The Lowdown: An endlessly stylish action flick that’s more arthouse fare than Hollywood entertainment, yet remains an infinitely fascinating -- and singular -- piece of filmmaking.
Genre: Existential Action
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman
Rated: R

If you think you’ve seen this film before, you haven’t. If you go into Drive expecting an action-packed Hollywood heist flick, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. Why? Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, who’s spent his career in Europe making bizarrely operatic, often violent cult films like Bronson (2008) and the endlessly fascinating Valhalla Rising (2010). While more Americanized, Drive isn’t far removed from those films, being a challenging, overly violent (but never sadistic) piece of pulp that’s nevertheless a completely singular and mesmerizing piece of filmmaking.

Yes, Drive—at its base—is pure genre filmmaking, with echoes of William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) and the films of Michael Mann. The barebones nature of Drive’s plot is nothing new. Our hero—who we’re given zero backstory about—is a soft-spoken man-with-no-name played by Ryan Gosling. He’s a stuntman by day, and spends his nights as a wheelman for various criminals. His only friend seems to be his mechanic (Bryan Cranston)—and apparent partner in crime—until he meets his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (newcomer Kaden Leos), who the Driver soon becomes enamored with.

Irene, however, has a husband named Standard (Oscar Isaac, Sucker Punch) who’s getting out of prison, but is indebted to some unsavory characters who have tasked him with one last job. For no other reason than to keep Irene and Benicio safe, the Driver agrees to help settle Standard’s debt by aiding in his heist. Of course, things go wildly wrong, and it’s up to the Driver take care of business in various and sundry bloody ways.

As storylines go, this is nothing you haven’t seen before. With its ace cast (including Albert Brooks in a wonderfully nasty turn as our villain), by itself the film would likely work as simple popcorn flick. But what makes Drive so spectacular is the way that Refn has filtered this basic crime plot through his own aesthetics and interests, while never becoming a checklist of references. Frankly, this is an odd movie, from the synth-pop score and languid, almost meditative pacing that coexist to create the kind of undercurrents of dread you’d find in a David Lynch film, to strange touches of surrealism and unnerving, detached, splattery violence in the vein of David Cronenberg. This is, after all, a movie dedicated to professional weirdo Alejandro Jodorowsky, created by influences—per Refn—as diverse as Grimm’s fairy tales, to John Hughes (yes, that John Hughes).

Even with the film’s somewhat dense and nonstraightfoward nature—not to mention forays into violence that will likely upset a lot of viewers—the movie still has a heart. It also has a good bit of humanity and sweetness under its surface, seen in the Driver’s love of both Irene and Benicio. All the blood and guts come from an innocent place, at least as far as the Driver—whose nature is solely based in emotion and a certain naïveté—is concerned, becoming more a movie about where ugliness can drive us and what it can turn us into.

More than an exercise in style (which it has in spades) or violence, Drive is an important film in a year marred by mediocrity. Refn has managed to make a wholly idiosyncratic film—one smudged in his fingerprints—put into a wide release in a time when cinema is more reliant on middlebrow fluff than risk-taking. Despite the fact that the film has cult hit written all over it, Drive is a must see for anyone in dire need of seeing something new and urgent—assuming they have the constitution to handle it—made by someone refreshingly enamored with the art of film. Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity.


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17 thoughts on “Drive

  1. From the opening scene, where the car chase is more cat and mouse than speed, I was hooked.

    Refn wears his influences on his sleeve. Gosling is channeling Alain Delon from LE SAMOURAI. The cars and action is pure 70s. The film is shot and scored pure 80s.

    This is Refn’s masterpiece, the best film of the year, and maybe the best film of the decade (so far).

  2. Xanadon't

    I agree, this is the best film of the thus far underwhelming year! But I’d place it among the best of other recent years too.

    Have to say it brought to mind last year’s The American– a movie I enjoyed far more than many people. But overall I’d say this is the stronger film and easier to recommend.

  3. Have to say it brought to mind last year’s The American- a movie I enjoyed far more than many people. But overall I’d say this is the stronger film and easier to recommend.

    That film was also strongly influenced by LE SAMOURAI. Perhaps a Tuesday night film in the near future Ken?

  4. Ken Hanke

    The film is shot and scored pure 80s

    Trying to put me off it?

    Perhaps a Tuesday night film in the near future Ken?

    It’s only been a few months since World Cinema showed it, so it’s future isn’t very near.

  5. Me

    It may be weird to say this but i saw some of the same elements that No Country For Old Men had in this film, they even both have the same tag line “There Are No Clean Getaways”.

    I dont know about film of the decade it is just 2011, but it is another good film in a great year so far.

    I got two free tickets because they screwed up and showed the wrong movie twice and then had to move to the next theatre. I guess that they thought it would make up for having to sit through the first five minutes of Bucky Larson.

  6. Me

    If i remember correctly didn’t Alain Delon spend most of Le Samurai with his hands in his pockets too?

  7. Ken Hanke

    make up for having to sit through the first five minutes of Bucky Larson.

    That’s what you get for going to a theater that doesn’t support art/indie film.

  8. Me

    Im not going to drive all the way to Asheville when its showing here in town. Plus i got 2 free tickets thats a better deal.

  9. Xanadon't

    Well, saw it for a second time earlier this evening. It’s without a doubt the most self-assured piece of film-making we’ve seen all year. And it absolutely oozes with seductive, mesmerizing style.

    Of the films released so far this year, this is the one people will bother to talk about ten years from now.

  10. kjh.childers

    Z Germans would say you’re ein guter Quelle, Herr Souther!
    Good call on the 5 stars.
    ein Pfiffipus! …this film.

  11. Bob Voorhees

    Re: “Drive” A largely silent and somewhat imnarticulate loner who happens to be happy to be the driveaway accomplice for felons who engage in activities which could lead to murder (thus making him as guilty as they are) brutally murders three people to protect a woman from the consequences of a decision he had made — to help her brother with yet another major crime — and after interminable silences while we stare at the faces of these “characters”, he is hailed a “hero” in a singing voiceover as he drives out of town. If this is a five-star movie, I’m the first born son of Mother Thersa. If this is what our culture wants to be entertained, read your Gibbon.

  12. Xanadon't

    If this is what our culture wants to be entertained, read your Gibbon.

    Who/What is this Gibbon?

  13. Ken Hanke

    I suspect he means Gibbon who wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

  14. Xanadon't

    Ah, thank you. Guess I probably came across there as your every day “Cesspool of sin” Philistine.

  15. Bob Voorhees

    You don’t have to have read “The Decline and Fall”. You just need to know about it. And then look around you and see how many signs of the fall of Rome you see about you. One key one that Gibbon hilighted was the paradox of “enjoying” grisly violence as “entertainment” (Christians fed to lions, etc). Then whip out your “Saw” series and get some Roman culture into those Asheville bones.

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