From Helen Lyttelton: Film review – Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive
9 November 2011

Drive is a love letter to film noir and fast cars, at once a blood-splattered exposé of a criminal underbelly and a nuanced romance. Winning the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival, the Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (perhaps best known for his Pusher trilogy) continues his fascination with morality in dark places. Set in a modern Los Angeles punctuated by 1980s beats, the film follows the experiences of an unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling). The Driver lives a double life, working as a stunt driver for Hollywood films by day and as a getaway driver by night.

The Driver’s world spirals out of control when he meets his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan), who is raising her son while her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac) is in prison. The Driver’s attraction to Irene is immediate, and their relationship is the focal point of the film. When Standard is released from prison, he finds himself sucked back into the criminal underworld he was hoping to elude. The Driver attempts to help him, with catastrophic results.

While Drive moves at a measured pace that may test the patience of some viewers, the film’s aesthetics are extremely well done. Director Refn manages to transform the simple act of driving along a busy street into something strangely beautiful. The driving scenes are dreamlike and introspective. We are left wondering what is really going on in the Driver’s head. Nonetheless, it is clear that for Gosling’s character the driver’s seat represents a sanctuary from the outside world. Drive’s LA is a wasteland where only criminals thrive.

The dialogue is sparse, but Refn captures the Driver’s loneliness in measured close-ups: in a blink or a glance to the ground. Gosling’s evocative portrayal of silence and stillness is completely shattered in a single violent act. He is superb in this role, creating an antihero akin to the outsiders of film noir. The Driver is a veritable Batman of the highway.

     Ryan Gosling in Drive

The relationship between Irene and the Driver is also skillfully portrayed. Again, there is little dialogue, and their attraction is rather conveyed in shy glances and smiles. Like Gosling, Carey Mulligan proves herself adept at playing an introverted character and makes the most of the dialogue she is given. Recalling the Driver’s aimless forays along urban streets, the romance goes nowhere. The couple share only one kiss in the midst of Drive’s most horrifying scene (only in Drive’s LA can love and romance exist in the same moment). Indeed, the nostalgic 1980s references serve to enhance the film’s reflection on what might have been.

Ambiguous, evocative and sometimes terrifyingly violent, Drive is worth the watch.

Drive can be seen here in Montreal. 

© Helen Lyttelton 2011

Helen Lyttelton is a New Zealander who has been living in Montreal since September, with plans to remain for a year under the Working Holiday programme. She completed an MA in English at the University of Otago in February. With a background in film, she works as a freelance film reviewer. 

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