***Since the soundtrack to this flick is as solid as a Tears For Fears cassette jamming in a walkman, the following review should be read while listening to one of DRIVE's best songs, entitled, "Hero". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DSVDcw6iW8***
Pompous critics are instinctively latching onto it, many a mainstream viewer is frustrated by it, and here I am, the guy in the middle. On the one hand, I gather why "big-name" critics trundle like lemmings to the art-house pretentions of the film; on the other, I understand why many an everyday movie-goer might be put off by the lack of action and dependence on prolonged shots of "nothing in particular". Having been an ardent follower of Refn since his cinematic advent, I find myself quite appreciable over what DRIVE has to offer, yet concede to the issue of style over substance.
Once I had been welcomed, searched and seated within the auditorium of my preview screening of DRIVE (props to Playmaker Online for making that happen--http://www.playmakeronline.com/), I leaned towards my fellow cinematic compatriots and whispered that 99% of the viewers within the theater would be disappointed by the following film. Not because it would be a cinematic abortion, but because they would be so focused on Ryan Gosling and the hopes of another FAST FIVE that they would overlook the fact that director Nicholas Winding Refn is at the helm. Relatively unknown to most, Refn hit the celluloid scene cold and hard with his low budget film, PUSHER. Performing as one of the harshest and must realistic depictions of drug use, PUSHER spawned two superior sequels (WITH BLOOD ON MY HANDS; I AM THE ANGEL OF DEATH) which solidified Refn's status as a director who plays by no one's rules but his own. Following this, Refn delivered FEAR X, the excellent BRONSON, the self-indulgent mess, VALHALLA RISING, and now, DRIVE. Despite my angst towards some of his pieces, Refn has nonetheless proven himself a powerhouse of a director who delivers his visions with an enthusiastic bird flipped in the direction of studio involvement.
Ryan Gosling plays Driver (clever, huh?), a hardened mechanic and stunt driver by day; getaway driver by night. Seemingly content with his routine life, Driver is thrust into a journey of brutal bloodshed when he agrees to help a man out of his own sin so that his wife and child might be spared a horrific fate. What follows is an elegant love story whose engine revs with the flair of the classics, but whose coat has been painted in the stylings of the new.
DRIVE succeeds because of its simplicity. This isn't a narrative comprised of labyrinthine mazes and the twists which lie at each and every dead end; it's a simple story grounded in the actions of its characters--not their words. Relationships--especially that of Driver and that of Irene--are that of the unspoken kind; ones which utilize physical action as emotional expression. Rarely do any characters outright state how they're feeling; it's everything that they don't say that speaks volumes about their character. The silence filling the void between Driver and the woman he's falling for as they simply sit by a sun-drenched window and stare at one another; the simple way Albert Brooks places a finely crafted blade back into its glass casing before brooding upon the cushy confines of a sofa; Irene lovingly watching as Driver slowly carries her sleep-induced son through a narrow hallway. Conveyed through exceptional performances all-around, these moments are beautifully captivating because of their cathartic simplicity. Within every nook and cranny of these portions, a palpable sense of honest emotion can be felt and offers the succeeding punctuations of violence far more impact.
And on that note, the violence itself plays second fiddle to the noir at hand, but that doesn't mean it doesn't do well by the viewer. Chase sequences are established in a calm realism, while the character-on-character melees are sudden, visceral and end with a great deal of dark crimson coating the ground. While I wouldn't have minded these vicious bits to have gone on a bit longer; a bit further--they nonetheless proved quite effective at dropping jaws and drawing gasps. The most favorable aspect of all the bloodletting being Driver's signature sharp-white jacket gradually becoming stained with the grue of his enemies the further he goes on his quest to right wrongs.
Having applauded the patience taken in many a scene, I--like other viewers--felt that a collection of shots could have definitely used some trimming as they gradually fall into ostentatious territory due to their longevity. While I loved a great deal of attention placed on certain shots and the aspect of, "just letting it be", others surpassed the point of, "I get it" and felt rather amateurish in nature. One such bout ends with a static shot of pavement as two shadows tussle ever-so-slightly with one another. While I believe this shot COULD have been more significant, its execution was that of college-level undergrad--a seemingly spur of the moment decision that rendered an initially surprising moment to that of "meh". As I had mentioned in my review of VALHALLA RISING, I hoped that by his next film, Refn would have gotten his extreme self-indulgence out of the way and been able to find a better means of displaying personal style without five-minute long sequences of characters standing around. Here, Refn repeats such negatives, but not to such a pretentious degree.
Instead of going the mindless summer route and crafting something akin to a FAST AND FURIOUS, or--God forbid--a TORQUE--Refn has indulged his direction in that of the creativity of yore; emulating such thrilling classics as BULLITT, THE FRENCH CONNECTION and my personal favorite, TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA. The focus isn't on dynamic set-pieces rife with explosions and ballistic weaponry; it's on that of character choice and dire consequence. Because of this departure in cinematic execution, DRIVE should not be viewed as an action film in which Gosling pulls his shirt off every five minutes and bears his sweaty chest to the pining masses; it should be viewed as a dramatic tragedy--one clothed in acid-washed jeans, a Members Only Jacket and a soundtrack beating eardrums with beautifully nostalgic synth.