Nicolas Winding Refn was in a car with Ryan Gosling one night, they were listening to REO Speedwagon with Refn was in floods of tears because he finally knew he could make the film he wanted to. That film was Drive, and while the director has stated he wanted to make ‘his Sixteen Candles’ the film that is released today on Blu-ray and DVD is a of very different sort, though the hazy ambience of the 80s hangs heavy over this tale of small-time crooks, lonely souls and fast cars.
Like Steve Mc Queen’s Shame this film is an uncompromising and brilliant vision of a dangerous life, told with confidence and a brutal energy; Refn’s neon-noir is an instant classic, maintaining a fierce momentum with moments of dreamlike wonder and nightmarish violence. When the film was previewed at the Big Screen event in August last year Refn said he and Gosling had decided to make the film while the director was high as a kite on flu medication and at times Drive feels like a waking dream, fuelled by two people falling silently in love while their world spirals out of control.
The premise of the film is pulp fiction of the most overt kind, with a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver becoming embroiled with the local mob bosses after agreeing to help a neighbour’s ex-con husband settle his debts. Not to do the film a disservice, this is like saying Blue Velvet is about a young man stumbling on a kidnapping. Much is told in silence, with only Cliff Martinez’s menacing score stirring the undercurrent of ever-present tension and the sad lovesong of the characters played by Carey Mulligan and Gosling is measured out in regretful pauses and longing looks, and as the story plays out we feel every twist as the knife goes in deeper.
When Drive turns nasty it is visceral and sudden with the extreme violence offering, when it comes, no catharsis at all. When the onscreen bloodshed abates we are left with the feeling that more is coming, and it’ll be worse when it does. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent and there’s no wasted screen time with Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman making much of the small time crime bosses they play. Carey Mulligan is likewise impressive, with a tangible sadness at the futility of her situation even when the brief light of her friendship with Gosling’s character creeps close by.
The aerial shots are sublime, taking full advantage of the Blu-ray’s resolution, and Refn’s handling of the chase scenes have an effortless confidence which is, at time, breath-taking. His framing, pacing and composition also have this quality and it’s very easy to overlook just how beautiful the film appears. In Gosling Refn has found an ideal leading man, allowing the well-worn story to unfold in a tense and measured form; if 2011 was indeed the year of The Gosling then Drive is his standout performance.
Drive has a magnetic quality to it, and I’ve found new things to enjoy each time I’ve seen it. It’s not so much the story that is told but the way it is told which impresses and Refn’s confidence is the true strength of this film. There’s a scene towards the end, one which will become famous for its tenderness and brutality and studied for the carefully controlled editing and stylised lighting design (and which contains my second favourite kiss in cinema) which marks the director’s talent. Easily one of my favourite films of last year, and one you should treat yourself to again.
The chief feature here is a BFI interview with Refn about the film and he’s always engaging and funny so this is one you should watch, but probably won’t return to. The other highlight is a poster gallery which is a nice accompaniment, but there’s nothing mind blowing here beyond TV spots and trailers.