*This review has been edited once I’d got over my initial raving and put on my serious reviewer’s hat once more, rather than the Ryan Gosling fan club one I’d been wearing earlier. Lesson learned – don’t review films as soon as I come out of the cinema, a little distance benefits everyone…
Story-telling without words fascinates me (there will be a post about this in the near future). The volumes that can be said by the tightening of an expression, the clenching of a fist or the subtle stance of a character is, when employed by skilled hands, so much more effective than mere words. After seeing Drive, there will be no doubt that Ryan Gosling has those skilled hands – building the emotional landscape of the central character – the un-named Driver – without a single extraneous word.
Less the action film I was expecting from the trailer, Drive is a strange mix of genres that is hard to pigeon-hole, but so much more enjoyable for its refusal to play by the rules. The first half plays like a slow-burning noir-drama, charting the Driver’s awakening in response to Carey Mulligan’s Irene – interspersed with bursts of shocking, economic violence and emotion that is all the more searing for the sparsity of expression the Driver displays for much of the film. The second half shifts seamlessly into action more reminiscent of gangster films for his quest for vengeance, and it is testimony to Gosling’s breadth as an actor that he handles the emotional subtlety of the repressed, isolated Driver as convincingly as he does the staccato bursts of aggression and emotion that seem to shock him as much as they do the viewer.
Don’t expect Fast and Furious style car chases. They are in there, but due to the camera angles and their placement within the story, they become tense power plays rather than adrenaline-fuelled races. The Driver instead drives through beautifully rendered neon-lit LA streets – an outlet, one senses, for the inner turmoil that he has no other other way of expressing, and the accuracy of the opening getaway sequence is more thrilling than all the high-speed chases put together.
Drive is a brilliant film. Utterly spellbinding and satisfying in a quiet, understated way. The music (by Cliff Martinez) is almost another character, saying much of what the Driver doesn’t, and blurring the line between simply accompanying the picture and actually telling part of the story. Ryan Gosling is brilliant, and director Nicholas Refn Winding is a genius – deserving of his Best Director award at Cannes this year.