Being an ace Hollywood stunt driver doesn't provide garage mechanic (Ryan Gosling) with enough thrills, so he has a sideline driving getaway cars, whilst longing for his pretty but complicated neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan). Meanwhile, garage owner Shannon (Bryan Cranston), aware of his employee’s driving prowess, approaches shady gangland friends to sponsor him as a racing driver. If the premise ended there, it would have shades of Karate Kid or Dirty Dancing ... Local entrepreneur supports small-town kid’s journey to race track to take on big boys. But it doesn’t end there. The delicate romance with Irene ends before it’s begun when hubby Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison. But no sooner than the last drop of celebratory bubbly has been drained, the latter is hounded by nefarious characters for debt repayments. Despite yearning for his wife, the driver steps in to help Standard, by doing what he does best: driving.
Drive is an action movie without the usual fast-paced feast to bewilder a white-knuckled audience. Director Nicolas Winding Refn is parsimonious with his provision of action shots, giving us sequences with few, yet aesthetically dazzling shots. He uses enough slow-motion to make you appreciate the beauty of his cinematography whilst building tension, but without over-using it. Clean, crisp backgrounds, colours filtered to perfection, attention to detail - such as all four characters in one scene wearing varying shades of blue, or the use of reflections - possibly unnoticed on a conscious level yet still achieving subtle and sometimes symbolic effects. It isn’t just action scenes that benefit from the director’s penchant for slow-motion; my favourite scene - the first kiss - is savoured by this technique and without wishing to spoil anything, coupled with a healthy dose of dramatic irony, builds tension admirably.
The main protagonist is very likeable, despite his dalliance with crime. Gosling’s facial expressions are a blank slate initially, not daring to betray his thoughts in his face, lest his lives cross over and he reveals one life whilst living another. We first see him smile with Irene and her son, yet it is an awkward, wide-eyed grin that his face isn’t accustomed to wearing. He portrays an unlikely hero perfectly, surprising us with contrasts within his character.
Wholesome, Greasy and Graphic
Mulligan gives a sweet, wholesome performance of the child bride of the swarthy, roguish Standard and Cranston, the hapless Shannon, plays a nice guy who rubs shoulders with not-so-nice-guys and his understated contribution to the movie makes you pity him.
The gangsters are a mixture of humourless faces and voices. The garish, scruffy, downtown eating outlet owned by one of them - clearly a cover for more iniquitous business - is the scene for much of their interaction. We are treated to the same background repeatedly, including the greasy wall menu with its list of equally greasy food on offer, a distraction from their murderous talk. They provide some light relief in typical gangster style, with occasional humour over trivia such as a lack of chopsticks.
The violence is graphic and reliant on close angle shots. No point looking away momentarily, because they are often slowed right down and with the queasy addition of brilliant sound effects. Talking of brilliance, the colours are something to behold; you could almost call such scenes beautiful.
Some scenes are captivating by their silence, but others are enhanced by well-considered choices such as College’s A Real Hero and Katyna Ranieri’s haunting Oh My Love.
If you appreciate Tarantino-esque violence and expert cinematography, watch this. Refn is a perfectionist and leaves nothing to chance … I could write more but that would leave nothing for you to discover.