Genre: Crime, Drama
Directed By: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman
Last year, one of the finest films I’ve seen in a long time crashed onto our screens; quite literally so (the blood-pumping car chase scene that concluded with a visually striking written-off Chrysler did not go unnoticed)! What was originally intended as a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster starring Hugh Jackman, came to life instead as a gritty but stunning neo-noir masterpiece that made for a truly unique and enthralling cinematic experience. Being such a niche film though, it unfortunately seemed to slip under the radar of many movie-goers when it was released. However, it did rapidly gain wide recognition for its explicit violence and stylish aesthetic.
Ryan Gosling plays the unnamed but captivating lead, who stunt-drives for high-priced, high-octane action films by day and moonlights as a highly sought-after getaway-driver in the vibrantly neon-lit cityscape of LA at night. When the unnamed driver platonically falls in love with the endearing and impressionable Irene (Carey Mulligan), he finds himself intertwined with her criminal husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac). Standard owes protection money from when he was in prison to an egocentric gangster who threatens to come after Irene and their son if he does not pay him. For the sake of Irene’s safety, our frontman valiantly offers to help and put right the mess that Standard burdened his family with by accepting one last driving job; which of course goes horribly wrong! This is where the thrills begin!
What started as a sweet, nonphysical, dramatic love story, u-turns into a palpitating, very physically violent, kill-or-be-killed thrill ride. Ryan’s character tries to track down the man at the top who’s behind the heist-gone-wrong, and is compelled to kill every gang member that stands in the way and poses a threat to his beloved Irene and her son. The mysterious driver unintentionally becomes an animal much like the scorpion embroidered on the back of his satin biker jacket, brutally and instinctively killing his prey. When the savagely manifested driver kills his way to the end of the film, the climax is as ambiguous as the violence he inflicted on those he killed, leaving us all drooling for more; which can be said looks like a possibility with both Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn both on board for a sequel.
What first had me transfixed on Drive was the stunning visual style and the effect this had on the film. As a neo-noir, Drive had updated elements from the classic film-noir genre that so many movie-goers loved. Every street light, headlight, brake light, helicopter spotlight or police car LEDs illuminated Refn’s re-imagining of LA in beautiful colours that seemed to reflect the story’s mood. Even the hot pink retro text Drive was written in across a shot of the LA cityscape at the start of the film, was as violent on the eyes as the physical violence itself. All this contributed to what was widely recognised as one of the most stylish films in years and was also what spurred the spectators at last year’s Cannes film festival to give a standing ovation.
What challenges Refn’s signature stylistic stamp on the film as my favourite element, is Ryan Gosling’s astounding performance as the unnamed driver. I was sincerely impressed with his flawless effort in bringing three dimensionality to a character that would otherwise be lacking in depth and intrigue. Peel back the layers of character development that Gosling brought to the role, and the unnamed driver would just be a monotonous blank canvas that you couldn’t relate to. I think for those reasons and the hardship that faced him in remaining captivating as such a stoic character, Gosling surely deserves a standing ovation himself.
I am sure those who have seen Drive would agree that the storyline and the characters around whom it spiralled out of control, all had as much depth as the wide angle lens that Refn is renowned for using to achieve his authorial style of film. For those who have not seen it, buckle your seat belts as you will be in for one of the most exhilarating thrill rides of your life!