‘You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes then I’m yours, no matter what’. This is the promise Ryan Gosling’s Driver makes. Stunt man / mechanic by day, getaway driver by night, he enjoys nothing more than cruising LA. Not that he’d tell you that. Gosling’s Driver is a man of few words. Robbed of a name, he exudes coolness and his lack of back story simply adds to the mystery of the character. His rare utterances, mixed with his subtle facial expressions, tell us all we need to know.
Drive patiently sows the seeds of its powerful story before revving into action after a shock shooting. In the first half we watch as Driver gently befriends new neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) before her husband returns from jail. Once free a host of criminals are hot on his tail and after money they claim he owes them. Cue a getaway gone wrong and the criminals turning their attention onto Driver, the man who now holds a million dollars in his boot.
Nicolas Winding Refn expertly draws the audience into the action. We’re never far from Gosling – seeing the chases from his perspective, we’re very much part of the high octane thrill that he experiences from his driving. Each chase marks a new development in his character and the car increasingly becomes an extension of himself.
There’s a comedic tone that weaves its way throughout the film and, as the film hits full throttle moving as it does from slow burning tale of ordinary people to a film about a nameless superhero who battles for Irene’s safety, it juggles its themes and nuances adeptly. There’s plenty here that will upset the squeamish (one man gets his face quite literally kicked in seconds after the film’s most tender moment) but even more that will please cinephiles.
The casting is superb. Providing quite possibly Gosling’s best performance to date, Mulligan also shines as the vulnerable Irene even if she isn’t given much room to develop. Ron Perlman gives a stellar turn as the evil Nino whilst Christina Hendricks is nigh unrecognisable as Blanche. Bryan Cranston’s Shannon provides light relief to the whole piece.
Drive is neatly complimented by its synth-heavy soundtrack, a soundtrack that organically develops with the film’s central character. The gritty synths are slowly replaced with a more orchestral, almost fairytale sound that echoes Driver’s journey.
Beautifully shot and well performed, Drive is a thrill ride from start to finish. Echoing the car-based classics of cinema the film, based very loosely on James Stallis’s 2005 novel, may well be Winding Refn’s best yet.
Best song: A Real Hero – College ft. Electric Youth
Best performance: Ryan Gosling.
[box_alert]Gosling restored the Chevy Malibu he drives in the film as preparation for the role.[/box_alert]