September 30, 2011 2 Comments
An ostensibly nameless driver (Ryan Gosling), sun-lighting as a stunt driver for movies, is earning an extra buck on the side as a getaway driver when things go a little bit tits-up. Having mumbled a few loaded words at his pretty neighbour, the diver is forced into reverse when Irene’s (Carey Mulligan) convict husband is released from prison. Wanting to do well by his neighbour and her young son, the driver concocts a plan with Standard (Oscar Isaac) in order to settle the latter’s debts and protect Irene and Benicio (Kaden Leos) from a couple of gangsters looking to tie up loose ends.
Drive is a film that has you caught in its headlights from the off; a gloriously retro font and finger-bitingly tense pre-titles chase sequence smack of director Nicolas Winding Refn’s confidence in his minimally scripted, maximally visualised creation. Boasting enough subtext to keep you locked in an almost devastating state of yearning, it really is impressive just how much can be chewed out through a devilishly well-placed tooth pick. For while Gosling might use only a scattering of words – we don’t even learn the man’s name – he is a maddeningly sympathetic and utterly compelling cypher through which to experience Winding Refn’s trite but beautifully stylised (and massively gory) creation.
The scenes shared with Carey Mulligan’s friend-interest positively smoke with chemistry (that’s what chemistry does, right? When it’s not melting jellybabies?), oozing attraction in the way that only the most forbidden, definitely doomed romances can. The support is surprisingly strong too, quite despite the fact that every other character is drawn with the broadest of strokes, with Ron Perlman in particular falling back on his own awesome reserves in order to make his character anything more than a reject from The Sopranos. Albert Brooks succeeds through juxtaposed shock alone (is that Nemo’s dad? The guy slitting that nice man’s wrists?), while it is just such a relief to see Malcolm in the Middle‘s Bryan Cranston back in work that you are more than willing to overlook the fact that he is near interchangeable from every other mentor figure, ever.
The plot is its biggest weakness, however, as it doesn’t really have one. Despite starting out strong, the initial premise quickly and disappointingly segues into an unexpectedly conventional revenge movie. As a stage for some pretty serious foreboding (You know, I can’t say I’ve ever seen Oscar Issac and the poltergeist fom Paranormal Activity in the same room, at the same time), the film holds up slightly less well as narrative. It simply isn’t satisfying as a motion picture. It’s cool, sure, but I didn’t exactly leave the cinema fulfilled; it all seemed too slight.
A wonderfully visceral piece of genre filmmaking, and a truly tantalising exercise in word economy, Drive succeeds thanks to a star-making turn from Gosling and a soundtrack that verges on note-perfect. While it might not be the masterpiece touted by over-enthused journos, it is nevertheless an immensely enjoyable and thoroughly engaging piece of Grindhouse cinema.