Drive, the highly stylised portrait of an LA getaway driver, comes from director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Pusher) and stars Ryan Gosling (The Notebook), Carey Mulligan (Never Let Me Go), Bryan Cranston and Ron Pearlman. Based on James Sallis’ 2005 novel of the same name, Drive is a pulsating affair that makes use of every inch of the big screen – the visuals alone make this a worthwhile adaptation.
Drive is at times a brutal, rapidly paced action film, raising pulses and making the squeamish amongst us shift uncomfortably in their seats. Unfortunately this intensity doesn’t sustain through enough of the picture, with slow dialogue causing the tempo to regularly drop.
These sluggish conversational exchanges, which actually contain very few lines, are an attempt to introduce an enigmatic and complex personality to Gosling’s character, and to bring a certain vulnerability, maybe innocence, to Mulligan’s. Towards the beginning of the film, when they proverbially ‘fall for each other’, it is a slightly jarring affair, lacking enough weight to get us properly involved with their lives.
In fact, the crux of the film’s problems is that it fails to immerse you in the characters, to make you feel empathy and understanding towards them and their actions. Another contributor to this is the lack of build-up around Gosling’s, or ‘Driver’s’, methods of carrying out his work. As the trailer implies, Gosling has a strict routine: 5 minutes he’ll give you, and he won’t help you if you fail to make it to the getaway car within that window. He also never carries a gun. However, while this premise is established at the beginning of the film it doesn’t become of much importance. Only the second time we see him try to carry it out he gets disrupted, spiralling events into the manic. While Refn’s method makes for an unpredictable plot, personally I would have liked more time to get used to ‘Driver’ and what he considers normality – that way, when events were thrown into chaos, the excitement would have been less superficial and more engrossing.
However, while I have so far spent this review pointing out the negatives, the positives are far more prominent. It may fail to get going for a good 30 minutes, but once it does it’s a thrilling ride of car chases, plot twists and ultra violence, all framed magnificently by Refn and scored perfectly by Cliff Martinez. Gosling looks awesome in his silver, scorpion-embossed jacket, and while his acting doesn’t always seem entirely comfortable he still adds to the intensity of the film’s major scenes.
Drive lacks the emotional might and psychological depth of a film like Taxi Driver, instead putting prominence on burning rubber and crunching bone. Once it gets going though, it powers to a chaotic and ultimately satisfying conclusion. Perhaps an appropriate way to describe Drive would be ‘pulp fiction with class’ – it is violent and visceral, with simple characters and a simple plot, however, there is an overarching style and quality to its production, meaning it isn’t consigned to be a bog-standard action flic.
Drive may be a very good film, but it doesn’t convince me that Nicolas Winding Refn has reached his peak. You only need to look at the Pusher trilogy to see his capacity to create great characters, something that Drive lacks. I fully believe that, while he already has a very strong portfolio of films, the best is yet to come from the talented Danish director. Drive is not his masterpiece, but it’s a very good film and one well worth a cinema trip.