Drive


Director: Nicolas Winding Refn.
Screenplay: Hossein Amini.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, Kaden Leos, Jeff Wolfe, James Biberi, Russ Tamblyn.

“I give you five minutes when we get there. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything a minute on either side of that and you’re on your own. I don’t sit in while you’re running it down. I don’t carry a gun. I drive”

In 2008, just three years after the publication of James Sallis’ crime novel Drive, Universal Studios got behind the idea of a film adaptation. Originally, director Neil Marshall was to take the reigns and craft an L.A-set action mystery with Hugh Jackman as the lead. Two years later, this proposed plan collapsed and in stepped Ryan Gosling. With a spate of successful films and strong performances already behind him, Gosling was an actor in high demand and for the first time in his career he was given the opportunity to choose who would direct the film. Already a big admirer of his work, he chose Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. The film was eventually released in 2011 to mass acclaim and struck a chord with audiences and critics alike. Not only was Refn awarded Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival but the film received a 15 minute standing ovation.
‘Driver’ (Ryan Gosling) is a man of few words and keeps to himself while working for his mechanic friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who also gets him some Hollywood stunt man jobs. By night, though, he makes his real money in the criminal underworld as a top-flight getaway driver who lives by a strict code. However, when he develops an affection for his next-door neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) he is drawn into helping her ex-con husband (Oscar Isaac) who has brought unwanted attention and conflict to their doorstep from the local thugs and menacing mafia figures.There’s a moment in Drive – and it happens within minutes of it opening – that you realise you could be in for something very special. From the offset we find ourselves amidst a heist. This is no ordinary take on a heist, however. We never actually see what is going on during the robbery. All we see is a silent driver, waiting in a car, ready to make a getaway when the looters return to the vehicle. It’s hugely effective in allowing us to see things from our main characters point of view and this absolutely gripping and adrenaline filled introduction sets a precedent for what is to come in Refn’s abundantly stylish, art-house thriller.It doesn’t stop there, though. Directly following this, a kitsch, vibrant pink credit sequence is thrust onto the screen as synthpop artist Kavinsky blares his catchy, 80’s inspired, track Nightcall overhead. Make no mistake, Drive oozes cool and should be viewed and listened to with the best of screens and speakers available. You can actually feel your senses heightening and the excitement setting in.As much as Refn has said the film is dedicated to the existentialism of Alejandro Jodorowsky (as was Gosling and Refn’s later collaboration Only God Forgives) there are numerous references and influences from a number of films and filmmakers; from car movies like Peter Yates’ Bullitt, Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop and Walter Hill’s The Driver there are also beautiful night shots of L.A. that are reminiscent of the cityscapes of Michael Mann’s Thief or Heat. The influences even extend to Gosling’s unnamed character. He has been likened to Clint Eastwood’s The Man with No Name from Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti westerns due to his lack of verbal communication but, in terms of living by a strong moral code, he also shares similarities with the lone-warrior mythology of Alain Delon’s hitman, Jef Costello, from Jean Pierre-Melville’s French classic Le SamouraïDespite all of these influences, though, Drive still stands as a film in its own right. The story arc is nothing new, as the aforementioned films and filmmakers attest to, but what makes Drive tick is it’s approach. This is a film steeped in mood and atmosphere which is thanks, in large, to Newton Thomas Sigel’s gorgeous cinematography where each moment is expressively captured. Even when the characters say nothing, Refn and Sigel’s decision to linger long on shots seems to suggest their innermost thoughts purely by capturing a protracted gaze and Cliff Martinez provides a haunting music score that compliments the striking visuals onscreen. There are also numerous moments of ethereal beauty and just when you’re settling into it’s meditative tone, you’re exposed to sudden fulminations of brutal violence – the momentary or seemingly deliberate pace it had, making the unrelenting savagery all the more intense and effective.

Refn’s unique and poetic approach to the genre also extends to his approach on casting. No tapes or auditions were used; with the exception of Gosling, all actors would meet with the director and he would cast them on the spot – if he felt they were right. This results in a rich collection of performers where no one puts a foot wrong:

The always excellent Bryan Cranston (supposedly ad-libbing most of his lines) pitches in a desperate and downtrodden character and manages to convey a certain world weariness and sadness in where he has come to be in his life. Fresh from her leading actress Oscar nomination for An Education, Carey Mulligan exudes the requisite vulnerability and sensitivity as her innocence is swamped with the depravity and violence around her. Largely unknown at the time, Oscar Isaac turns a very flat underwritten character into a three-dimensional one (that wasn’t originally in the script). He brings a charismatic, family man edge to his role and steers him away from the archetypal ex-con. He’s hardly in the movie but makes an important contribution and shows why he’s now a well respected performer. The same could be said for Christina Hendricks, she has less than a handful of small scenes with sparse dialogue but she still impresses. Normally associated with comedic roles, Albert Brooks plays it convincingly against type and delivers a menacing villain while his henchman in Ron Perlman adds the requisite presence and ferocity to compliment Brooks’ cold calculation. Despite having the most screen time, however, you could say that Gosling actually has less to work with. Being a man of few words, he has to base his performance on mannerisms and subtle facial expressions and he does so with understated brilliance. If you’re seeing Drive for the first time then Gosling probably won’t stand out as anything special but on repeat viewings it’s clear just how commanding a performance he delivers. He can effortlessly act with his eyes alone which allows his silence to speak volumes and with the very nature and mood of the film’s dependency on a minimalist lead, Gosling captures it perfectly.There’s a particular understanding and crucial tone to the performances that are fully in tune with Refn’s rhythm and elegant, art-house style. He takes a mainstream American idea and defies conventions by putting a European spin on it while employing existentialism and ambiguity as key factors in his vision. This is the very basis that makes Drive such a success. It’s respectful to it’s audience and turns a tried-and-tested storyline into something fresh and exciting.


A sophisticated, ultra-violent neo-noir that manages to combine a tender love story with intense action set-pieces, while channeling an artistic creativity. To put it simply, it’s the best film of 2011 and one of the very best in recent years.Mark Walker

Trivia: Driver references the fable of The Scorpion and the Frog: the frog agrees to carry the scorpion across the river; the scorpion stings the frog, saying “it’s my nature” and both drown. Driver can be seen as The Frog of the story – he drives/carries criminals (scorpions) around in his car, but is inevitably dragged into their destructive world (stung) leading to everybody’s downfall. Driver’s jacket has a scorpion on the back, just as the frog carried the scorpion on its back.


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69 Responses to “Drive”

  1. abbiosbiston Says:

    I am such a big fan of this film. It’s so absorbing with such excellent performances. It also reminds me how many great supporting performances Oscar Isaac had before people really started to notice him.

    Like

    • I’m a huge fan as well, Abbi. There’s not many films in the last five (maybe ten) years that I would consider a genuine favourite of mine but Drive is certainly one of them. It’s absolutely superb in every way and, yes, it is very much a treat to see Isaac before he hit it big. Great actor!

      Like

  2. Drive is something special. You won’t see anything like it before. You are right with your reviews of each actor because they are all good even the small ones by Issac and Hendricks are good

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Vern. It definitely is a special movie and one that I never get tired of. Spot on about the small supporting roles too. Isaac and Hendricks really shine with very little to do but everyone is really on the top of their game. It’s a real favourite of mine.

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  3. Nailed it, Mark. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, sir! I had done a review ages ago but I wasn’t happy with it and didn’t feel I explained my love for it properly. It was always one that I’d be doing again as I watch the film on a regular basis.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a cracking review Mark, I love the 80’s style to this movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice review Mark. I did love Drive when I saw back in 2011 but after watching Only God Forgives, my memories were kind of soured of the film. But still, it’s an incredibly badass, massively entertaining picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I actually came round to Only God Forgives. It took me a while and few watches before I tuned into the symbolism and themes. I can totally understand people not liking it but I reckon it accompanies Drive quite nicely and it was a brave move by Gosling and Refn to do something entirely different.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. An excellent film that rewards rewatches – it actually feels crafted with layers of detail to be discovered.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely Jay! The first time I seen it I was blown away. I instantly wanted to see it again. I’ve now lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen it but it just gets better and better with every viewing. It’s an outstanding piece of work.

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  7. Couldn’t have put it better myself Mark, Drive is a hell of an experience. I remember my buddy seeng it before me and notifying me that it was unlike anything he had ever seen before. Little did I know what I was getting into when I saw it a day or so later.

    That scene in backstage at the strip joint is up there with some of my all-time favorite shots/moments. Gosling exudes such quiet, seething intensity.

    Fab review

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    • Glad to hear we share the same enthusiasm here my man! A hell of an experience is right! I remember when I first went into it. I, like many others, was expecting a Fast &Furious type deal. It wasn’t that at all. It’s a deep, ethereal journey and the coolest film I’d seen since Pulp Fiction. It blew me away and still does every time I see it.

      Loved Gosling too. Like I mention in the review, it can be so easy to overlook his quiet intensity at first but after several viewings, it’s an absolutely commanding performance.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It truly is. And even though he doesn’t get to say much, when he does say something it’s super-powerful. I think the “kick your teeth down your throat” line might be one of my all-time favorite lines! haha! So unexpected

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha! He does genuinely look threatening in that scene. It’s all in his eyes. Few actors can manage that but Gosling does most of his best acting through how expressive his eyes are. I wouldn’t say he’s underrated but I don’t think he gets the praise he deserves sometimes.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Well written review, like many of the other people who have commented, I hold “Drive” in high regard.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Love this movie. You are so right about the “understated brilliance” of Gosling’s performance. Truly, the same could be said for Mulligan as the two spend a lot of their scenes together just making googly eyes at each other and it works so perfectly. It’s arguably her best performance, too. Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Dell. Gosling is solid, for sure. So understated that a lot of people overlooked his performance when the film came out. Over time it has proven to absolutely integral to the film working as well as it does. I’m with you on Mulligan too. She’s so good here and Oscar Isaac also thoroughly impressed me (as he so often does these days).

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  10. daveackackattack Says:

    You know Mark, I thought you already wrote about this… so I’m not crazy. LOL. I loved it back then and still love it now.

    I think I mentioned that Refn talked to Gaspar Noe about the fire extinguisher scene from Irreversible before shooting the hammer scene from Drive. I’m sure you can see the gruesome similarities.

    It’s kind of funny that Oscar Issac almost goes unnoticed considering the standout work he’s done up until now.

    I really dug the music for this. I have been a fan of Cliff Martinez’s music since Soderbergh chose him for Sex, Lies & Videotape way back in ’89. I still listen to his haunting score for this film. Not a bad track on the OST. Later I found out he used to drum for the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their early stuff.

    Drive would have been good anyway but the 80’s vibe really sold it for me. It was done so well without being cheesy. Check out the film The Guest if you haven’t seen it. It stars Dan Stevens in a very different role than the proper Englishman he played on Downton Abbey and Maika Monroe (It Follows) in the role that put her on the map. While it didn’t have the 80’s look, the 80’s soundtrack really stood out for me. Not a perfect film but entertaining as hell.

    Speaking of Dan Stevens here’s an interview during the promotional tour of The Guest that goes off the rails with a very poorly worded question. LMAO.

    Like

    • Yeah, I wrote about this a good while back, Dave. It was one of my first reviews actually but I always wanted to go over it again and expand on it. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen in recent memory and just doesn’t seem to get stale at all – no matter how many times I see it.

      Everything about it is perfect. The acting, the directing, the minimal approach and the 80’s vibe is absolutely spot on. Cliff Martinez does a great job on the score too. It completely suits and adds to the overall mood of the film. I had no idea about the Chili Peppers though. Nice info, as always, man.

      I did see The Guest but, to be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed with it. It was okay but it’s certainly no Drive. That said, Stevens was great in the lead and that interview… Hahaha! That’s brilliant, man. Has there ever been a more poorly worded question? LOL. 🙂

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  11. daveackackattack Says:

    Oops forgot the link to the interview. Hilarious.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I think I need to watch this.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Great stuff mate, I agree it’s a cracking film, with such a strong sense of style; it has a real 80s feel to it with the neon and the music. I think Brooks and Perlman are so good to watch in this film…really fucking menacing, the pair of them. And like you say, Isaac turns a nothing role into something other than ‘the guy who gets in the way of the guy and the girl’. I’ve watched it a couple of times and it’s the kind of movie I’ll go back to repeatedly as the years go by.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers bud! I’m a huge fan, everything in this just comes together perfectly. The style, performances, everything. Isaac was a particular stand-out for me. When he first appears, you expect to actually dislike his character but he brings so much dimension and layers to the role that you warm to him very quickly. He had not right to manage to do that with such limited screen time. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Excellent review Mark. I’m totally with you on this. Did you get the chance to see Zane Lowe’s re-scored version that aired on BBC3 a while ago? It’s still really good, but highlights just how imperative Martinez’s original score is to the mood and aura of the film.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Adam. Man, I had no idea about that re-scored version. I’m very much interested in that. I did know that David Lynch regular Angelo Badalamenti was mentioned in the original credits and in some ways that would have been fitting, considering the film has many Lynchian moments. As it goes, though, his name was apparently just a placeholder before Martinez took over.

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      • Never realised Badalamenti’s name was in there. That would’ve been interesting! We should just get loads of different composers to re-score the film in order to see what happens, haha.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, in one of the early prints of the film it’s his name as the composer on the beginning credits.

        That’s a great idea, though. I reckon Drive is the perfect film to showcase how important and effective a soundtrack can be. Im really eager to get my hands on that re-scored version. Not that Badalamenti done a score, in the end, but I reckon he would be great for it as well.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Despite my huge loathing towards you, I thought I’d venture out of the floods and head north to see what you’re up to. Then I see this was your latest review and it made me want to put our rivalry aside and pat you on the back for the perfect review (obviously the score is what matters!)

    I don’t need to tell you how much I love this film (and Gosling). I read the book and its sequel earlier in the year, worth a read if you havent already.

    Hope your good my friend. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • What the fuck are you doing showing your face around here? I thought I’d blocked you. 😉

      Since you have always been an advocate for Drive, though, I’ll let it slide this time.

      Way back when we collaborated on this one I always had the intention to do another review of this. My original one didn’t do it justice at all.

      I really should read those books, man. Thanks for the reminder.

      Does this mean you’re back blogging yet or is this just a random visit?

      Liked by 2 people

  16. This movie… ❤ It is a slice of perfection! You know I can gush for ages, and I know you can, too, so let's just say that, no matter how many times this movie is seen, it loses none of its glory.

    Excellent review! I watched this about a month ago again, and it was just fantastic (as always).

    Like

  17. This movie has so much god damned style it hurts! One of my favourites of that year; it was a real break out for Gosling for me. He absolutely owns the part and the supporting cast is sublime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Couldn’t agree more, Mark. It’s always an absolute pleasure when a film like this turns up. Everything just comes together perfectly. It’s not only my favourite of that year but one of my all time favourite films.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Never heard of this one mate! Sounds like I need to add it to my watch-list!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thanks for reminding me of this movie. It’s awesome. Gosling is amazing and the soundtrack is perfect. And I didn’t even realize Oscar Isaac was in it! Time for a re-watch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Sean. It’s a sublime movie. I can’t find fault with it at all. Everything just fits wonderfully and, yes, it can be easy to forget that Isaac appears and also easy to forget how damn good he is too.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Still one of my favorite movies in 2011. This is a classic. Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Sounds cool. I’ve heard its great, I think I’ll be in for a treat!

    Liked by 1 person

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