Unless you’ve been living in a vacuum for the past year, you’ll know that Ryan Gosling is fast becoming Hollywood’s hottest talent. With lead roles in Lars and the Real Girl, Blue Valentine and the imminent Crazy, Stupid Love, the Canadian born actor is renowned for his deep and multi-layered portrayals, but the question is this: does his latest offering expose us to the same raw, gut-wrenching emotion?
There’s no definitive answer as Gosling exudes a softly spoken, believable character, yet stars in a movie very different to his existing résumé. We don’t see the extreme vulnerability as per Blue Valentine, but are given enough to whet our appetites. Combine this with a rogue-like sensibility, he exposes a gentle quality and ruthlessness, which work beautifully together.
A roaring success at Cannes this year, it won Best Director as well as a nomination for the Palme d’Or after receiving a standing ovation. Essentially Drive is an indie production, constructed through filmic and cultural influences. It falls nicely into the cult category without the need to follow suit with mainstream conformity as it shows the quality that can be produced on a mere $13m budget. It comes across as slick, amusing, thrilling, touching, as it encapsulates an intensity that remains throughout. It is this compelling aspect that makes the film so watchable and more importantly, memorable.
The self-contained story sees a man known only as Driver (Gosling), sustain a career as a part-time stunt driver and underpaid mechanic for garage owner, Shannon (Bryan Cranston). On the side he also offers his automobile skills as a getaway driver too, which is the catalyst for the story. His path crosses with single mum, Irene (the effortless Carey Mulligan), who he befriends- along with her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos)- before finding out her crook-of-a-husband, Standard, (Oscar Isaac) is to be released from jail. Subsequently Driver gets entangled in the ex-con’s unpaid debts after offering his assistance out of concern for Irene and the boy. Further into the story, Blanche (Christina Hendricks) shady mobster, Nino (Ron Pearlman), and dodgy businessman, Bernie (Albert Brooks), are introduced, but feature non too heavily. Brooks asserts himself with a callous efficiency that adds a notion of danger as he tackles the role convincingly.
It’s clear from the opening shot that director, Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson), is influenced from 70′s and 80′s culture; notably the soundtrack of ballads juxtaposed with edgy beats works wonders, which is superbly fused together, heightening tones of romance, despair, and the ultra-fucking-cool. The addictiveness of the soundtrack captures Driver’s persona, reflecting his inner torment and isolation against the bright lights of the big bad city. The film offers a B-movie and film noir aesthetic with nostalgic nods to films such as The Driver and is reminiscent of Mulholland Drive. With visual references such as fast cars and chases, Drive pays cultural homage whilst maintaining a gritty modernity. A younger generation will pick up on a GTA: Vice City vibe, as the script is packed with era references, culminating in a retro nostalgia we all want in on.
The central relationship is incredibly balanced. From the moment Driver and Irene meet, the chemistry is so abundant as the pair exchange silent, longing glances as a relationship gradually builds. Mulligan’s dimpled-smiles complement Gosling’s assertive smirks perfectly. In fact, the strength of their performances gives the film a much needed depth, balancing human fragility with the more frantic, and at times, ultra violent nature.
On more than one occasion the violent and bloody encounters not only shock, but enrich Gosling’s character; never are we offered any back-story or history to him, but we can interpret the kind of man he is as he bonds with Benicio, in comparison to the horrificness contrast of caving a man’s head in. This element of European art house cinema certainly give the film an angst-laden, tough exterior and is a pleasant separation from mainstream fodder.
There’s no denying Gosling’s appeal; a bewitching, charismatic charm he brings to the table that gives audiences no choice but to be ‘wooed’ by his alluring, yet reserved presence. His scorpion jacket, shades, toothpick, driving gloves, all form a stylish iconography, which visually portrays an interesting loner character with an unknown history; the beauty is not knowing his past prior to the film, thus creating a enigmatic persona you can strangely relate to. His attire doesn’t feel gimmicky. It doesn’t try to be cool, it is cool – it pulls it off with ease, which makes Driver a man with desirable attributes that viewers will surely draw to.
Winding Refn directs with a single-minded confidence as he both shoots and tells the story in a technically competent and clear manner. The imagery is stunning as well; breathtaking LA skylines, murky city streets, subtly lit interiors; it all feels part of an ever-moving, yet surreal world. Winding Refn articulates the script well and captures the essence of the main character exquisitely. We are constantly encouraged to back our protagonist even through the more gruelling segments until the ambiguous ending captures the tone of the film sublimely.
Drive is a gripping, yet emotionally charged action film with notable performances from Gosling, Brooks and Mulligan. It’s consistently thrilling, hugely likable and accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack that makes this the complete package. Winding Refn avoids succumbing to clichés as it progressively becomes more intense and violent before its boiling-point and fitting conclusion. Anything but a mainstream movie, it’s got potential to become a cult classic with style and substance, coupled with a charm and dexterity that only a talent such as Gosling can pull off.