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Movie Review: Drive (2011)

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Get ready for the coolest movie of the year. Nicholas Winding Refn – who previously brought is the deceptively slow-paced Valhalla Rising and the out-there Bronson – delivers a real thrill ride of a movie with Drive (pardon the pun) but one that works on a quieter level than a lot of other similar films.

We’re officially out of the summer season and Drive is a great example of the grown-up type of cinema this type of year offers. Even if it often concentrates on the drama, it’s still at least part thriller, with plenty of car chasing (it ain’t called Drive for nothing) and shootouts. But there’s a depth to this film which sets it apart from many others of its type, a certain boldness which makes it stand out from the crowd.

Drive movie reviewRyan Gosling (who seems to be in every other movie these days) plays a movie stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for any criminals who need his services. One day he starts to form a relationship with his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son, eventually deciding to help her husband (who has recently been released from prison) to pull of a job in order to pay debts he owes to a crime boss. Needless to say things don’t exactly go to plan and the Driver (as he’s simply credited) gets mixed up with the wrong people a lot more than he had intended to.

On the surface Drive may seem like your average crime movie and indeed it does contain a lot of the tropes of the genre (big bad mob boss, shootouts, car chases and lots of swearing and violence). But Refn – one of the more unique directors working today – has created a distinctive tale of crime, not least with the elegant, handsome look of the film off-setting the often horrendous and violent things that take place on-screen.

Speaking of which, if you are at all queasy or of a nervous disposition you might want to watch this one with caution. It’s hard these days to shock with violence – purely because there’s so much of it in movies and on TV that we’ve become somewhat desensitised – but there were at least five times (at least) throughout where my mouth dropped open in shock and awe of how violent it was. That may sound like a knock but it’s entirely the opposite. This is dealing with serious situations and if they involve violence then it should be showcased in all its brutal reality. Drive isn’t afraid to show what would really happen if, for instance, someone was shot in the head. Violence is not a nice thing so why should the film hide that fact?

Gosling plays just about the coolest character of the year within the coolest movie. That stylish white satin jacket (with added scorpion embroidered on the back), that steely stare and that a tough demeanour which says “don’t mess with me or else,” even if he says only the bear minimum that he needs to (a man of action not of words). All of these things (and more) add up to one heck of a memorable protagonist. Gosling puts in one of hiw best performances to go along with the likes of Blue Valentine and Half Nelson.

Drive also sports an impressive array of supporting actors including Brit actress Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks (playing wildly against type) and Christina Hendricks. The film does a good job of allowing each of them to have their time in the spotlight but still keeping Gosling centre stage.

You can’t really talk about Drive without mentioning the soundtrack. It’s arguably the best movie soundtrack of the year, consisting of a combination of original music by Cliff Martinez (The Lincoln Lawyer, Contagion) and existing songs, together giving off a distinctly ‘80s-synth vibe which, again, helps to make the film more than just your average crime-thriller. The music is almost like a character in and of itself, something of a trademark, and considering there are lots of segments without dialogue, the music fills and overlays those moments quite perfectly.

Drive cruises a long at wonderfully judged pace, quiet and methodical when it needs to be but still turning everything up to 11 if and when the moment calls for that sort of thing. For the most part it’s more of a stylised slow-burner than you might expect, more interseted in how things are presented technically, but that’s part of what makes it so great. Absorbing, audacious and utterly compelling, this is undoubtedly one of the films of the year because, perhaps above all else, it’s entirely unpredictable – how many films can you truly say that about these days?

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About Ross Miller

  • Noooo, don’t say “who seems to be in every other movie these days”! Ryan has been speaking about retiring this week!!! Maybe he can follow in the footsteps of Jared Leto and his band Dead Man’s Bones will take off?
    Nice review. This is definitely on my watch list.

  • @Mandy,

    Hehe, I was just pointing out he is in a lot of movies these days. I hadn’t heard that about retirement, it would be a shame if he did. Glad you enjoyed the review, feel free to share it around!

  • I feel a little bit guilty saying that Drive needed more driving. When the action comes it is tense and artfully done without shying away from the extreme violence, but that all starts to go away as soon as the characters start talking, or sighing and looking at each other. Nice review. Check out mine when you get a chance.

  • forbes

    i just cam back from watching it and i think i suck. had so much potential. half the movie was people staring at each other in silence with bad music playing in the background literally. i was almost like they just wanted to take up time. i was very disappointed

  • marjo

    I took my girlfriend to go see this movie and it was a disappointment. The beginnings was cool and so was the action, but most of it was people looking at each other while music was playing. Fast and furious had more driving than drive.

  • ryan

    worst movie i’ve seen. i walked out after 40 minutes because the majority of it is just people staring at each other.

  • zingzing

    you guys all seem to be missing that drive is an action genre flick pared down to the essentials. if you’d rather have meaningful silences (you know exactly what they would say if they were saying anything) choked up with stupid dialogue, there are plenty of other 80s-style action movies to watch. it’s a simple genre movie, but very well-done, gloriously simple, slick yet jarring at the same time. not the greatest thing ever, but certainly a good, enjoyable film.

    if you walked out after 40 minutes… well, you missed the last hour, which gets pretty nasty. nice way to waste your money, bud.

    and the soundtrack was awesome.

  • Cali fornia

    Once again, people are fooled by the trailer for the film. It reminds me of the reaction to NO country for old men. This is not an action film. It’s a study of a sociopath, ie Driver himself, a man alone in the world and obsessed by the movie industry he works in. The first clue we get to this is the scene where Driver is prepairing himself for his stunt job in the first half of the film. As the camera tracks towards Driver putting on the mask, we catch a glimpse of the film’s(the one film Driver is stunt double on) star in a mirror, chatting away to the make up lady. It’s a quick glimpse, then the camera tracks past him and on to Goslin putting on the mask prior to doing his stunt. So, we see the film star’s face reflected in a mirror and on the other side of that mirror is Driver. I think, from that, we can assume that every time driver looks in a mirror, he imagines himself as a movie star, or at least when driver or another character is reflected in a mirror, driver is re-imagining what is happening in his life as the film he is staring in in his head (much the same notion as in Mullholland Drive) If you watch carfully, mirrors feature regularly.
    There are a number of scenes that come after a close up of goslin’s face. The scene where Driver walks in to the strip joint and confronts Chris comes just after we see goslin’s face. There’s then a disolve into the next shot. I believe this sequence is an unanounced reverie, where Drivers imagines himself in his own film. I’m not sure if the scene actually happened any where other than Driver’s head.