Drive (2011)

Drive (2011)

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Probably fifteen minutes of the film's running time spent on this one shot alone. Maybe.
Probably fifteen minutes of the film’s running time spent on this one shot alone. Maybe.

Twitter Plot Summary: In very few words, Ryan Gosling drives getaway vehicles but soon finds himself having to protect his neighbour and her young son.

Very rarely do the constituent elements of a film combine to form something far superior than if they were considered individually. Sure, a lot of films find a nice balance between the director’s style, the choice of soundtrack, performances and the story, but it’s less frequent that they all coalesce as effortlessly as those found in Drive.

It may come as a surprise to some, but despite how 80s the soundtrack feels it is actually a selection of more recent artists borrowing the retro vibe. The selections perfectly match Winding Refn’s slow, near-dreamlike direction, frequent use of slow motion used as a stylistic choice rather than a desperate attempt at padding out a relatively short novella into a feature length film.

Drive is a film that is low on dialogue, but don’t hold that against it as this proves to be yet another stylistic choice that benefits the whole. It’s based on the novella from author James Sallis, and with a few exceptions is practically a direct adaptation of the text. The violence is frequent, surprising and graphic, made all the more shocking by the moments of slow motion. Characters appear with the expectation that they will be involved for some time, before being unceremoniously bumped off. The overall story arc is one that doesn’t hold much in the way of surprises, but much drama is eked out of the various power plays and desire for huge amounts of cash – a desire not shared by the Driver of course, he’s involved for entirely emotional and personal reasons.

The Driver had a nice surprise waiting for Mr Lovely Gunman.
The Driver had a nice surprise waiting for Mr Lovely Gunman.

The story is a simple one: Ryan Gosling plays Driver, a stunt driver in the movies and a mechanic of sorts working for Bryan Cranston’s Shannon, a former stunt driver whose involved to an extent with some bad mafia-like guys. Driver also acts as a getaway driver for criminals on the side, his abilities such that most pay top dollar for his experience. There is a catch to his services however – he’s only available for the first five minutes, after that his passengers are on their own and he’ll slip away into the night. Matters get complicated when he takes on a job in support of his neighbour Irene’s husband, which is precisely where it all starts to go wrong.

Performances are solid across the board. Gosling is mean, moody and practically silent as Driver; Cranston is effortlessly enjoyable as Shannon; Carey Mulligan as neighbour and love interest Irene demonstrates resilience in the face of adversity. In slightly lesser roles are Oscar Isaac as a man in over his head (and Irene’s husband), and Christina Hendricks as an accomplice at one robbery.

On the other side of the fence are Albert Brooks as Bernie, constantly with a look of coldness in his eyes and, for a change, a man who is not concerned about getting his hands dirty. There’s also the ever reliable Ron Perlman as Nino, a Jewish pizzeria owner and generally unlikeable chap. This happens to be just about the right number of characters for the story, and each is developed sufficiently to suit the narrative without going overboard.

Winding Refn may be a director who easily manages to split opinions, but even if you ignore his other efforts in Drive we have a perfect example of how to successfully adapt a novella for the screen, and have the gall to do it seemingly without effort.

Score: 5/5

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