An eclectic arrangement of Hollywood action, poetic passions and innovative filmmaking makes “Drive” an off-centered pleasure in all respects. With clockwork precision, “Drive” eloquently juggles the world of art-house film and mainstream blockbuster without allowing the pitfalls of self-indulgence detract from its streamlined joy ride.
“Drive” has made it clear that director Nicolas Winding Refn knows how to infuse a film with cinematic glamour under the confines of the action genre. “Drive” opens with neon pink titles reminiscent of “Miami Vice” as Ryan Gosling drives along a cosmic Los Angeles with the electro-synth sounds of French artist Kavinsky’s “Nightcall.” The opening brings about an ’80s cinematic style with contemporary sophistication. “Drive” is sure to be categorized alongside films like “Bullitt” and “The Driver” as one witnesses Gosling resurrect the allure and thematic nuances of such notables as the “King of Cool,” Steve McQueen.
Deep within the dreamy streets of Los Angeles lies a dark underworld of crime; an unnamed driver for hire is the only barrier between freedom and incarceration. Obsessed with order and with a knack to extract understanding from others, Gosling’s character is essentially a man who speaks through action. Stunt driver by day, heist driver by moonlight, the protagonist finds comfort behind the wheel. Taken aback by his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), the Driver quickly grows infatuated with the girl across the hall. With the unexpected return of Irene’s incarcerated husband, Driver finds himself in a crossroads. After Irene and her son are put in danger due to her husband’s shady dealings, the Driver must protect her, ultimately embarking in a hostile mission of passion and vendetta.
The Driver’s past is never truly revealed, making his actions and motives that much more unsettling. Backed by a strong supporting cast (Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks) “Drive” is essentially the story of a man whose inner demons drive him to commit acts of great violence, as well as great humility and compassion. With plentiful action scenes, the film does not cease to deliver moments of calm and appropriately moody scenes between Gosling and Mulligan. The film’s sentimental and melodic playlist adequately compliments Gosling’s ability to portray large amounts of emotion with a simple grin. Personal moments between the couple are stretched out to uncomfortable levels as depicted in a scene where Gosling and Mulligan simply smile back and forth at each other, properly infecting the audience with the awkwardness that comes with the initial stages of a relationship.
In a time where driving has become a chore, “Drive” reminds us of the tranquility that comes with cruising in a beautiful city listening to pop music. Adapted from James Sallis’ novel of the same name, “Drive” is a love letter to the city of Los Angeles; we drive through everything from the recognizable boulevards all the way to the sands of the beautiful Pacific shore.
With it’s moody colors and expressive angles, “Drive” pays tribute to car loving heist films of the past. Refn has acknowledged that the film is a tribute to filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, which is a major source of the films existential inclinations. The cinematography is reminiscent of a Jean-Pierre Melville film, as exemplified by the way cinematographer Newton Sigel composes clean and efficiently smooth shots. Overflowing with references to past classics, “Drive” is a familiar genre picture done better. Refn has managed to make the muscle car cool again, bringing us back to a time where driving was king.