Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, “Drive” is a nightmare on wheels. The film is exhilarating in ways that recall 1970s vehicles by Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and even Clint Eastwood. This world is populated by archetypes and it is as intense as it is predictable, yet it somehow works out thanks to Winding Refn’s assured and methodical direction and the powerhouse lead performance by Ryan Gosling.
Ryan Gosling is the Driver. He is given no name, harking back to Eastwood’s nameless antihero in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Man with No Name and other collaborations with Sergio Leone. Needless to say, there is plenty of driving and what can only be termed as “car porn” to go around. The Driver does double duty as getaway driver for criminal enterprises and as a Hollywood stunt-driver. The film’s opening sequence is brilliantly structured to build suspense and create an immediate, heart-pumping connection between the audience and the Driver. The Driver is enigmatic – he readies himself to drive away two robbers by donning gloves and putting on the Lakers game on the radio. Winding Refn effortlessly navigates Los Angeles, the camera floats above the City, suggesting a macabre cat and mouse race. The use of pseudo-retro 80s music works perfectly with the gritty, grimy Los Angeles that produced someone like the Driver.
There is also a quaint if not entirely convincing love story between the Driver and his innocent next-door neighbor, a single mom played by Carrie Mulligan (“Never Let Me Go”), who just happens to be married to an incarcerated felon. Rather predictably, the husband’s return to the small apartment building complicates things but it does provide Gosling with plenty of conflict to create a multi-layered, admirably nuanced performance. Gosling, whose previous film was the pleasant-yet-forgettable “Crazy, Stupid Love” (2011), shows yet again why he is the best male actor of his generation. And Albert Brooks, cast against type, is chilling in the role of a Tarantino-esque villain.
The film is not for the faint-hearted. The violence is graphic and unexpected, with pints of blood and brain matter staining mirrors, walls, elevators, clothing and, of course, cars. But Winding Refn doesn’t loiter around the bloody crime scenes. Like the Driver, he moves on expeditiously, expertly taking the audience on a ghastly yet often thrilling ride.
Verdict: Stream It!
Reviewer: I. Rodríguez