In describing how this film came about, director Nicolas Winding Refn tells of Ryan Gosling suggesting that they work together while they were driving around L.A. He himself was high as a kite and when REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling" came on the radio, he found himself crying and saying they should make a film about driving to 80's music. From this confused and maudlin beginning comes a razor sharp film.
Driver (the character's name has the final "r" that the title doesn't) works at a garage and does stunt driving for the movies. He is a loner by nature but finds he's attracted to a woman who lives in his building. Irene is a young mother whose husband is in jail. Driver leads a simple and orderly life but also flirts with chaos; he contracts himself out as a wheel man for criminals. Very little is known about him–who he is, where he comes from–but that does not concern us. The story focuses intensely on the here and now.
Much is made of the violence of the film in the trailer. Winding Refn directs action with great panache but he shows genius in the construction of carefully modulated scenes that are very still and very quiet. Dialogue is sparse and he allows the silences to stretch out. Using artful camerawork and a soundtrack that could best be described as an aural landscape, the entire film crackles with energy.
Ryan Gosling plays the laconic Driver with great intensity. He is a hard character to understand but Gosling draws our empathy. He says very little and conveys his thoughts and feelings through the flick of an eyelash or a twitch of his lips. Carey Mulligan ably plays Irene. Bryan Cranston does a 180 turn from Breaking Bad's Walter White to play Driver's unlucky hustler of a boss. Albert Brooks appears as a kindly but ruthless investor with criminal ties. Ron Perlman takes a turn as, you guessed it, a local crime boss.
If you took Michael Mann and crossed him with Wong Kar-Wai, you might get an idea of Nicolas Winding Refn. Drive is a lean, mean machine but its artistry elevates it beyond the crime genre. It will leave you breathless.
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston
Producer: Marc Platt, Adam Siegel, Gigi Pritzker, Michel Litvak, John Palermo