It’s the year of Ryan Gosling. The young up-and-comer who pleased the female masses (The Notebook), and gained plenty of indie cred (Half Nelson, Blue Valentine), is having a banner year. He starred as the womanizing Jacob Palmer in the successful rom com Crazy, Stupid, Love, and he’s set to play as George Clooney’s counterpart in the anticipated political thriller The Ides of March. The movie in between, Drive, which came out on September 16th, is a creative mish-mash of genres, with enough grit, action, and mainstream cinema to please anyone smart enough to go see it.
Ryan Gosling plays a mysterious tough guy, named in the credits as Driver. An obvious credit to that name, the man is outstanding behind the wheel, and performs as a stunt driver for movies and car repairman by day, and a getaway driver for criminals at night. Reminiscent of Jason Statham’s Transporter, Driver has a strict set of rules that must be followed to gain his services; you have a five minute window when everything starts, and no matter what happens within those five minutes, he’s yours. But whatever happens a minute or two outside of that window, becomes none of his concern and you shall no longer have his help.
His boss and agent, Shannon (played by the expert Bryan Cranston), has dreams of taking his prodigy to the professional racing world, and burrows money from some shady and well connected men for a stock-car. Meanwhile, our cryptic protagonist becomes enamored with a beautiful young neighbor, Irene (a stunning Carey Mulligan). He quickly befriends her and her son Benicio, and she tells him almost right away that her husband is in jail. After a number of happy outings between their makeshift family, the husband gets out of prison and comes back into Irene and Benicio’s life, putting an awkward schism in the relationship between Irene and her new possibly-more-than-friend.
The husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), might have gotten out of jail, but he didn’t get out of his debt. He is quickly reminded of that by a certain crime family who puts the boots to him, and goes as far as to threaten his family. Standard owes them a job, and our anonymous driver agrees to help, knowing that it’s the best chance for Irene and Benicio stay safe.
Needless to say, if things went according to plan, there wouldn’t be a movie. I’ll leave it up to your imagination as to what comes next, for I’d hate to spoil any of that juicy goodness that follows. However, I will say its chock full of adrenaline, violence, and a whole lot of Ryan Gosling’s sweat.
Drive is a very interesting piece of work, as it doesn’t boast itself as pretentious or anything of the sort, but it very clearly takes influences from arthouse cinema. Driver speaks very little, and the sets, action, and even the soundtrack do more to move the story and build its characters than the dialogue itself. The electronic fuzz of the music (mainly “A Real Hero” by College featuring Electric Youth, which plays multiple times) gives you an 80’s feel, but this is no throwback, as each scene is highly stylized and modern.
Whereas other directors would have tried to work this melting pot and failed, and understandably so, Nicolas Winding Refn seems to be right at home, and pulls the whole thing off with an impressive mastery of visuals and foreshadowing. The movie is fueled by dramatic tension, and there are loads of it, enough to keep you writhing in your seat, instantly worried about what’s coming next for our characters. Moments of silence are almost painful, unbearable in the best kind of way. There is the potential of nail-biting anticipation behind each bead of sweat, each smile, each eye twitch. Every moment is another kick to the gut, and when Drive really kicks into high gear, it never stops, and the last half hour or so is completely unrelenting, emotional, hyper-charged movie-making.
Drive pulls no punches. It doesn’t make things easy for the viewer. It’s gruesome, yet beautiful at the same time, and it’s a perfect expression of a seemingly good deal gone bad; it becomes every player for himself, and anyone who knows anything is frowned upon.
Gosling’s performance cannot be hailed enough. His character is completely controlled behind the wheel, and resolute when around Irene and Benicio, but we see a dark side, a mysterious volatility that is almost frightening. The look on Gosling’s face when he’s forced to do certain things he doesn’t want to do, it’s enough to send chills down your spine.
And that’s the perfect way to describe Drive. Cool, calm, and collected, with an explosive underbelly of maddening terror. As it stands, Drive is one of the best releases of the year.
Participate in the year of Gosling; you’ll be glad you did.