By Kahren Eloyan, Opinion Editor
// Movie Rewind is a new feature at Blueprint where one of our writers uncovers and reviews a great film that either no one knows about or that everyone’s forgotten.
First up in this series is the film whose success director Nicolas Winding Refn has been chasing for six years- 2011’s Drive.
Reviewing a Nicolas Winding Refn film is a difficult task. There’s a well-established and specific vocabulary used to describe the director and his work, clichéd words like ‘stylish’ and ‘violent,’ which are difficult to avoid. However, there’s no denying that Drive sees Refn at his directorial heights, employing all of his stylistic traits in a balanced and well-measured quantity.
Drive tells the story of the unnamed Driver, a terse and silent Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver and who falls in love with his neighbor, Irene. After Standard Gabriel, Irene’s husband, returns from jail, the Driver is drawn into a web of violence and criminality to protect Irene and her son Benicio.
The film’s opening scene sets the tone for the movie beautifully. The Driver, in what is probably his lengthiest sentence in the film, explains what it is he does- and then shows the audience to dazzling effect. The opening getaway sequence is fantastic and upends the modern movie car chase: precision and stealth are the hallmarks here, not outright speed and mayhem. The scene is almost entirely shot within the Driver’s car, creating a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere supported by the choice of music: the metronomic and electronic “Tick of the Clock” by the Chromatics. As Drive moves into the opening credits, the musical strengths and visual flair of the film are again illustrated, combining long establishing shots of Los Angeles with the wonderfully retro-synth title song “Nightcall.” From these first scenes alone, Drive’s strengths become apparent.
Performances are also high points from the film. Ryan Gosling plays the mysterious Driver with unnerving subtlety, revealing a hero who’s spent so much time in Hollywood that he’s developed an almost psychotic and deeply cinematic moral code. Carey Mulligan is reliably outstanding as Irene, bringing a refreshing emotional realism to the film. Oscar Isaac is great as Standard Gabriel, Irene’s husband. Remorseful and reluctant to be dragged into crime again, Isaac infuses Standard with a sympathetic quality that brings depth to a character who otherwise would have been one-dimensional. Bryan Cranston is also strong as the unlucky and in-debt Shannon, the Driver’s mentor and accomplice.
The real powerhouse in performances, Gosling aside, is Albert Brooks. Playing wonderfully against type, Brooks’ Bernie Rose is a glum and sullen antidote to the classic over-the-top movie mobster and is at full strength when he’s criticizing someone. As a counterpoint to the rest of the performances and rather disappointing however, are Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman in their roles. Hendricks simply isn’t given much to do, while Perlman delivers a bizarre and uneven performance as a secondary antagonist.
It should be noted, however, that Drive is not a film that will cater to all tastes. It’s a slow and measured film that’s punctuated by moments of shocking and incredibly vivid violence, which ultimately serve somewhat to the film’s detriment. While there are moments where the violence serves the story, usually when the Driver is delivering it, there are parts where it borders on gratuitous, especially when compared to the quiet and thoughtful tone of the first half of the film.
Drive, however, is definitely a great film. For those who can bear the deliberate pacing and the moments of comic uber-violence, it’s a beautiful and entertaining film anchored by a great soundtrack, two utterly magnetic performances, and a notable visual flair that sets it apart from the many action films that it occasionally imitates and plays off of.