‘Drive’ a stylish blend of film noir, romance, hyper-violence
UPDATED – “Drive” is strange. And in a cinematic world bursting at the seams with cookie-cutter plots, re-makes and sequels, that’s a compliment of the highest order.
From the hot-pink cursive opening credits to the Michael Mann-inspired masculine melancholy to the stripped-down gore celebrated by Quentin Tarantino, “Drive” stylishly coalesces genres into a violent film noir with a splash of romanticism.
Amid the ’80s electronic pop pulsating through the background, laconic wheelman Driver (Ryan Gosling) slowly, methodically enters the scene, reciting his five-minute rule: Criminals have his loyalty for that length of time. After that …
In a brilliant opening scene, Driver — because he’s never given a proper name — and his car (this time, a late-model silver Chevy Impala) navigate through Los Angeles, idiot burglars in tow, gliding past obstacles and alternating between accelerating and hitting the brakes at a tempo matching the tension-inducing soundtrack. It’s like watching a virtuoso at work.
Danish-born director Nicolas Winding Refn (“Bronson,” “Valhalla Rising”) deserves credit here, too, having produced the coolest movie around and adding another hit to his list of cult-followed films.
Driver, a stoic man of few words and even less background, possesses otherworldly skills behind the wheel, which, along with being the getaway driver, he uses to drive stunt cars for movies. There’s even a point where he may have a future on the racing circuit.
That’s what his employer Shannon (Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”) would like to think, anyways. But to meet that end, he has to persuade some local mobsters (Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks) to loan him the money needed to finance both the car and the dream to speed away from their film noir existence.
Fate, however, has a different track for these men. Driver slowly develops feelings for his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan, “An Education”) and her young son, Benicio (Kaden Leos), which ignites the film’s dramatic tension, as Irene is married to an incarcerated man. Upon his return, Standard (Oscar Issac, “Sucker Punch”) gets wrenched back into his life of crime in a way that requires Driver to spill copious amounts of blood and brain matter in true “Kill Bill” fashion.
Vendettas abound, with money and ill-fated honor seeping into the stinging betrayals. But there is one scene of near-domestic bliss, with Driver taking Irene and her son on a cruise along a concrete culvert, “Grease”-style. It’s both simplistic and sleek, binding you tighter to the makeshift family while eliciting a sense of foreshadowing of what’s to come.
“Driver,” at its core, is an exercise in mashup. Gosling’s high-pitched voice and soft face engender smiles, even when he curb-stomps enemies into a bloody pulp. He’s a man of few words and emotions, constantly surveying his surroundings, but when Irene and Benicio show up at the garage where he works, a nearly imperceptible smile gives way to something felt.
And Mulligan’s doll-like features leave you wondering how she got mixed up in such troubles. Not that’s she really involved in any of it, which is part of the reason Driver descends to such depths to protect her and her son.
Refn, who won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011, and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel take you to a place you’re not certain you want to go. You’re not sure if Driver is going to drive off into the sunset of this blood-soaked City of Angels or off an oceanside cliff. But it really doesn’t matter. You’ll want to go wherever he takes you.
Four artsy stars out of five.