Friday, 30 September 2011

'Drive' Review

'Drive' (dir: Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011) Cert: 18

The 'Man of the Moment'. A Cannes award-winning director. An abundance of gleaming reviews. 

Nicolas Winding Refn's American crime thriller has been an anticipation film for many, myself included and it seems to be a universal winner with mainstream and arthouse audiences as well as tabloid and broadsheet critics - something which is extremely unusual and something which excites one greatly. So, is 'Drive' really the best of both worlds or is it simply just another over-hyped festival flick?

A Hollywood stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as a getaway driver in his spare time faces new challenges when he meets a beautiful young woman called Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son. As their relationship grows, the 'Driver's original lifestyle returns and soon he finds himself in a dangerous heist which forces him to risk everything. 

 The incredible attention and buzz surrounding 'Drive' is not ill, nor over-the-top, in fact it would be a challenge to praise this film any higher than one intends to do. Refn's picture is that rare beast, that ultimate cocktail; the brains and the brawn, the pulp and the gloss. It has everything to offer it's audience and so much more.

 The film explodes onto the screen in an arresting and unnerving fashion with Driver tackling a 'job' whilst slick neon pink credits fill around the action and the darkness of Los Angeles' shimmering streets - it's truly a spectacle. Soon after, the film drops back the pace and the existential arthouse picture begins to breath life; those expecting non-stop mayhem and Hollywood car chases will be bitterly disappointed as 'Drive' is much more adult in tone and time distribution than some dumb popcorn flick. Winding Refn allows the film to use it's 100 minute running time efficiently and smoothly - no scene is rushed, no dialogue pauses are cut and consequently, nothing human or natural is lost.

Still from'Drive' (dir: Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)
 However, once 'Drive' hits the hour mark, the brakes come off and the gas is guzzled as it ferociously bursts and spits with energy, velocity and beautifully captured lashings of ultra-violence. What's so unique and fascinating about the film is how true Winding Refn has been to his European roots. Thematically, 'Drive' couldn't be more American - it's cast bar Mulligan and Gosling (who is technically Canadian but we'll let that slide) are from the US, it's setting is Los Angeles and it's narrative flavour presents a mix of Michael Mann's 'Heat' (1995), Monte Hellman's 'Two-Lane Blacktop' (1971) and Peter Yates' 'Bullitt' (1968). For all intensive purposes, 'Drive' is an American feature, yet it feels so European in it's character studies, tone and atmosphere. Straight faces, bold body language, minimal dialogue, uncensored and unglamorous violence - you name it, Winding Refn's latest has got it.

 Considering 'Drive' has been slapped with an '18' certificate from the BBFC, viewers may be surprised by how little sexual imagery and bad language it features. Characters do swear, but the language is much more tame than say a high-school sex comedy. However, this film does feature some brief but strong images of violence that some viewers may find difficult to stomach. If you have sat through Japanese Tartan Extreme films, or notorious arthouse movies like Gaspar Noe's 'Irreversible' (2002) then there is nothing in this film that will shock or offend, but for those who have only consumed Hollywood violence then 'Drive' will strike a tough cord. Winding Refn's films have always been violent in some nature and here he uses gross-out and realistic imagery to turn-off viewers rather than make violence look cool and enjoyable. Although some have complained about the violence, it only adds to the tainted and distressed atmosphere that surrounds the entire picture and I believe it is completely necessary.

 As well as a pitch-perfect narrative and structure, 'Drive' is a tour de force in directional terms. This is a Winding Refn film - everything is so intrinsically detailed, sculpted and captured in creative fashion. From the dizzying crane shots, to swooping through the ambient lit streets of down-town LA, this is a director's piece and it's no wonder he picked up the Best Director award at Cannes for this one - I just hope he's nominated in the Oscars and Golden Globes too. The film also features a wonderfully 80s retro soundtrack blending electronica and synth which really adds to the film overall.

 The performances are fantastic with Gosling being the star - considering Driver says little to nothing, his body tells the story through his constantly gripped fists and dead-pan expressions. You can almost see cogs turning and ticking behind his pale expressions and soon enough, a cog will click and he will snap causing him to enter into a violent state of mind. Gosling's naturalness and performing expertise come out blazing here and he makes Driver one of the year's best characters. If he doesn't receive any nominations, one will be deeply shocked and disappointed.

 Mulligan is excellent and plays 'the girl next door' like a pro. Although she too has minimal dialogue, her motions and facial expressions benefit her tremendously and she gives a powerful and quiet portrayal. Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac and Albert Brooks also star and all are superb in their roles, no matter how dramatic. Hendricks has a very small but vital role and she acts her socks off and Brooks is fabulous as the evil crime lord Bernie Rose and it's a true pleasure to see him play a maniac rather than a cuddly old man like he's become used to.

 'Drive' has cult status stamped all over it's chassis and it will divide audiences quicker than it can refuel for the next screening, but for those who are open to arthouse pictures and those who have extremely high expectations of how cinema ought to be, Winding Refn's movie will have you applauding down the aisles. My Two Cents are that 'Drive' is one of the year's best by a country mile and is a white-knuckle, blood-soaked masterpiece.

A sophisticated ultra-violent neo-noir which grips, thrills and captivates right from the green light. 

By Chris Haydon

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