Plot: A mysterious Hollywood stuntman, mechanic and getaway driver lands himself in trouble when he helps out his neighbour.
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers: Hossein Amini (screenplay), James Sallis (book)
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston
"There is always some madness in love.
But there is also always some reason in madness."
— Friedrich Nietzsche
"Whatever is left of me, whatever is left of me...I'm yours."
"Drive", the movie sensation of 2011, has swept away most of the people who have seen it. Why? Stylistically the movie is just amazing - from the very first minutes the pictures just flow into the night, with shining, blurred lights in the distance and you get the feeling as if you were driving along with the main hero. The film never loses its dreamy, evanescent quality - the camera movements are steady and the takes are long, the images just flow before our eyes creating one breezy atmosphere which is curiously contrasted with the violence and the gore that we occasionally see in the movie.
What adds to the film is another reason for its popularity - the amazing soundtrack consisting of original score by Cliff Martinez, which for some reason brings to mind driving on the empty streets during night. The album also contains great synthpop pieces that feel very old school and may as well be something which Quentin Tarantino would love to use in certain scenes in Kill Bill Volume 2. From the beginning to the very end, the movie never betrays the amazing climate it established, pulling as deep into the story as if it was a dream.
The film follows Driver - he is so mysterious that we never even get to know his name. In fact to call him mysterious is an understatement - we know almost nothing about this guy except for two things - he works in the garage and as a stunt driver in movies and drives the car in an excellent way, which is mostly apparent in the movie long yet engaging opening where the character, just using his skills and clever strategy escapes the police, while driving robbers after they finished committing their crime. Driver never says too much, he stares at everything intensely and the only kindness and subtlety that appears in his eyes instead of his usual determination and coldness is when he sees his neighbor Irene and her little son Benicio.
Irene is everything Driver is not - she smiles, she is a mother, she is married and she appears to be lively and joyful. She however, as much as he, has this sense of nostalgia and quiet sadness about her - The Driver and Irene actually say very little to each other, because Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan felt that their scenes should be more focused on the mood and refused to say many of the scripted lines. Mulligan summarized making the film as "staring longingly at Ryan Gosling for hours each day." So there they are, just spending time together, looking at each other, enjoying each other's company.
After that moment Driver succumbs to his true nature and begins pursuing people who want to harm Irene, because of her husband's actions. He mercilessly tracks them down and makes sure they will never hurt her. There are hints to Driver's real personality throughout the film - he is always so quiet and intense, always very focused but halfway through the movie comes a scene when one of the guys he once drove after robbery spots him in the cafe and sits next to him. After he tells him who he is and wants to engage Driver in a conversation the Driver tells him to walk away or he will kick his teeth out, with the cold, unmoved stare.
The criminals in this movie are its weakest point - I have no doubt they look and behave closer to actual real life criminals than in any other movie released recently, however is "Drive" really about realism? In a sense it's a dreamlike fairytale with a twist where the princess is saved, the hero is noble and the bad guys lose. Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks who play the primary antagonists are good, but they are very forgettable. I never understood the praise Brooks received for his performance in this film. It faded from my memory as soon as the movie was over.
Ryan Gosling's work in the movie is a revelation - he is a perfect choice for the character, strong, yet sensitive, with the eyes that can express both fierceness and compassion, anger and love. Originally the movie was going to star Hugh Jackman in the main role, which would most likely turn "Drive" into big budget action movie and most likely a disaster. With Gosling cast in the main role what's most important is his hero, his emotions and his actions. We never lose him out of our sight and we never really question what he does, because we know he is doing the right thing. Even if he don't know his past or even his name, we are prepared to follow where he leads us.
The film also includes Bryan Cranston as Driver's boss, in performance I liked much more than Brooks's overrated work here and beautiful Christina Hendricks, straight from "Mad Men" in a brief but extremely memorable performance that adds even more of a character to the movie - we don't know much about her Blanche, just like we don't know about the Driver - she seems to be an outcast for some reason, same as him. That's the thing about this movie - even without many lines and many scenes the characters are so vivid you immediately feel the depth in them and you are compelled to wonder what their back stories are.
"Drive" plays out like "Taxi Driver" for new generation - the heroes are similar - damaged and filled with anger, there is a girl they want to rescue and both movies feel strangely alike in their ability to lock the viewer in the world from the film during its run time. Not only is it terrific thriller and a beautiful love story - "Drive" feels fresh and unique and won't fade from your memory for a long time.