Hollywood noir; covered in many fine films and almost invariably set in the 1950s. Drive takes that noir and brings it to the modern day, stopping along the way to pick up some musical inspiration from the 1980s.
Drive follows Ryan Gosling as a professional driver based in LA. He turns his hand to various jobs as a driver, from racing to wheelman for local crooks. The film opens with a spectacularly tension filled job as Gosling evades cops down back alleys and brings his crooked clientele to safety.
After introducing the premise, Gosling shuts up and just lets things play out in silence, and it is this silence which drives much of the film. If you were to pull out all of the dialogue from this film you’d only be cutting about 30 of its 100 minutes. Much of the emotional depth is mined from subtle glances and awkward pauses in much the same way as the best of 1990s’ continental European film. That is not to say that Drive is aurally boring, in fact the acoustics are another boon to the film. The soundtrack seems to have been written by the best of today’s indie artists if they were working in the19 80s. The lighting, art direction and soundtrack all give the film a distinctly 1980s’ feel, but without feeling dated.
As we get to know the silent Gosling we also discover Irene (Mulligan), the girl next door. Gosling is drawn further into her world and that of her family. Initially this world draws Gosling away from Hollywood’s seedy underbelly but it soon drags him right back into it.
This underbelly is best seen through Bryan Cranston’s character Shannon. Cranston gives an excellent performance as a mechanic who does a lot of work with Gosling. Shannon is already involved with gangsters and becomes a natural port of call when Gosling’s character gets called to that world.
As the film progresses things become increasingly violent, something which Winding Refn does not shy away from. The violence is brutal and Gosling becomes someone to fear, all the while becoming a truly noble hero. That is the crux of this film, while many heroes are shown to resist the corruption of their dark surroundings, Gosling is always just as corrupt as the world around him, but still possessed of a firm nobility which roots the movie.
Drive has already earned many deserved and favourable comparison to Bullitt but it would be a folly to latch onto that comparison too much. At the same time, it is an interesting new bracket which holds both Steve McQueen and Ryan Gosling. After many fine performances in other films, Drive may finally become the film which replaces The Notebook as Gosling’s calling card. That’s a calling card many would kill for.
This is a masterpiece for most of the people involved.