Its recent absence from the Oscars has spurred me to write this defence of Drive. The academy needs a serious evaluation of its criteria when it can snub a film as well made as this.
Listen to the audio file above while you read this.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive earnt a nomination for the Palm D’Or at Cannes and scored Refn the win for Best Director. Most known for his screenplay/direction of Bronson back in 2008 - the film that did for Tom Hardy what A Clockwork Orange did for Malcom McDowell - Refn has struck cinematic gold with his latest ultraviolent romp Drive.
A leather gloved Ryan Gosling grips the steering wheel under the city night lights, toothpick in mouth, calculating on the ticking watch on his dashboard. His clients are taking too long on the job. In a few moments the driver will start the car and be gone, leaving them with no escape. The driver’s logic is unquestionable, his resolve steel and his compassion tied up on the backseat. He needs no one.
He simply drives - by day for Hollywood, by night for the underworld.
Do not go into Drive expecting mindless Jason Statham action sequences, because this film is nothing like that. This film is the story of a machine, a system, becoming compromised and destroyed by the poison of compassion.
When Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son move in next door to the machine, the walls start to come down. One by one, the driver’s values and disciplines start to crack as he falls for her and the solitary puzzle piece finds his place. The situation becomes shaken up with the arrival of the boy’s father, Standard (Oscar Isaac), who has been in prison. When Standard is unable to protect his family from his past, the driver intervenes and soon becomes entangled in a botched robbery that threatens the only things he loves in his life.
Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman menace as the film’s antagonistic mobsters whilst Bryan Cranston (From NBC’s excellent Breaking Bad ) plays the driver’s crooked but fatherly manager. It should be noted that a good film can be held up by either a protagonist who’s the best at their profession or a ruthlessly motivated antagonist. This film has both.
The cinematography creates a phenomenal aesthetic of blurred city lights, rain covered windshields, palm trees and dingy L.A apartments. You feel the furious precision of the driver, every calculation, every look, every thought that flashes through his mind on screen.
The faux eighties style suits the film brilliantly, from the distinct pink handwritten titles to the electronic pop score by Cliff Martinez. The best though, comes from the track posted above and “A Real Hero” by College. The lyrics paint a picture of the entire film’s primary discourse: the machine’s transformation into a real human being and a real hero. It fits superbly despite being maybe a little heavy handed.
Drive’s minimalistic dialogue is as precise and subtle as its protagonist, communicating the emotion and subtext effortlessly with a number of lines resonating in the theatre as the credits roll.
Perhaps the only thing that lets this film down is its vague ending, which some audiences may find a little unfulfilling. Nevertheless, Drive stands as a beautifully crafted story that breaks from the traditional Hollywood style just enough to keep mainstream audiences and film critics pleased.
It’s as if someone threw a brick on the film’s accelerator as it powers furiously down an inevitable and unsettling path. With chilling performances from the leads and its own brutally realist style, the main kicker about Drive is simply how undeniably unstable the driver really is.
Drive was undeniably one of the best films of the year, my personal favourite for 2011.