By David Salazar
Nicholas Winding Refn's latest film "Drive" is one of those rare films that is subtle and to a certain degree minimalist, but has no qualms about blending those characteristics with moments that are overly graphic and violent. In what is already being mentioned as a major reference point in the film (and one which may become a classic/almost iconic moment), Ryan Gosling's face is completely drenched in blood. It is a moment that may obtain some laughter from the audience (apparently it did at Cannes and it certainly did when I went to see it), but it is not humorous laughter. It is the laughter that is created when something is both odd and uncomfortable. This is the style that rules "Drive" and it does so with both complete command and reckless abandon.
The film tells the story of Driver, a stunt driver by day and a getaway driver by night. His life is altered when he falls in love with Irene and the idea of a family. However, Irene's husband Standard gets out of jail and his whole family is threatened if he is unable to pay off a debt. When an ensuing heist goes awry, Driver finds himself as the local mob's next target.
I am not familiar with Refn's previous work, though "Bronson" seems to have been a tremendous success. He also won the Best Director award at the venerated Cannes Film Festival and for good reason. His film is well-paced, enabling not only for the character interactions to remain true and even, but for his action set-pieces to thrive. One of the aspects of the film that I really appreciated was that even if he went over the top in many instances with the violence and action, it always felt just right. Same goes for his quieter moments in which he tends to indulge in long takes and long pauses. It certainly maintains a slower tempo, but does so without dragging the story along. To classify "Drive" as an action film is a disservice to it, as Refn engages multiple genres that make up American cinema. To call it an hommage to American cinema is in no way an understatement. The film starts off like an action/heist movie and carries on as such for the most part, but in between we have moments that elicit a romance and family drama; one disturbing scene recalls the horror genre; and the gangster genre makes its presence known throughout. But it's all a seamlessly interwoven tapestry in which neither reference overpowers the other.
At the core of this film's success is yet another compelling performance by Ryan Gosling, likely the most underrated actor of his generation. Last year he was snubbed from an Oscar nomination for his tremendous performance in "Blue Valentine," but this year he has come back with 3 films, all seemingly destined to be tremendous successes. I have already mentioned his scene-stealing work in "Crazy, Stupid, Love" as a charismatic womanizer, but here he is the complete opposite. He isn't charismatic. He is rather quiet (he rarely speaks); he is mostly expressionless for the film's duration (but his few subtle hints of emotion express more than many actors at their best), coming off as cool and calculating. Not even as he transforms into a maniacal killer does he externally express his emotional disintegration. This is an introverted performance, but one that never ceases to fascinate the viewer. Gosling is truly a wonder to behold.
His supporting cast is no laughing matter either. All of them, Carrie Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks, Oscar Issac, Bryan Cranston bring a complexity of different colors to this vast pallet of a world. Mulligan brings delicacy and dignity as the frail Irene. Cranston is Driver's only friend and almost a father figure to Driver. Their scenes are few, but provide some strong emotional content. Perlman brings a hilarious edge to his mobster Nino while Brooks contrasts him with a cold and calculating demeanor. Oscar Issac brings warmth as Standard.
It is definitely not the kind of film Hollywood would be interested, and yet it represents all that Hollywood aims to portray. But unlike most Hollywood films, "Drive" brings the thrills, edge, and emotion with style and a strong sense of personality.