When I hear rumblings that a new film has restored a classic genre for a new audience I say, ‘Whoa, pump your brakes, put it in park, and let’s see what’s under that hood first.’ If my subtly awesome car imagery is not enough, then the car I’m talking about is film noir and its mechanic is the masterfully crafted Drive.
Taking the wheel from James Sallis’ novel is Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson) as the otherwise nameless title character with director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson) capturing the life of a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a heist getaway driver. We are introduced to the stoic moonlighter first as the film opens quickly with a phenomenal chase scene that alternates between dodging helicopters and police cars like a Grand Theft Auto mission directed by Frankenheimer. The daytime version of the Driver is an aloof loner, until he befriends his innocent neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son. Things are fine until her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison and quickly gets into the sort of trouble that only the Driver can get him out of.
Daunting task, especially with upper echelon gangsters Nino (Rob Perlman) and Bernie (Albert Brooks) pulling the strings. But Gosling is up to it; after all he took up the great challenge of a character like the Driver who has little dialogue, unknown motivations with a brooding antisocial personality and gave him depth and pathos. The Driver could easily have just come off as a prick, but instead he’s mysterious.
A fantastic soundtrack along with the font of the garishly pink title credits takes us back in time (perhaps around GTA: Vice City time? Sorry, no more video game bombs) and vibes a fresh L.A. style of noir, like what Scorsese did with New York in Mean Streets, but the Driver perpetually chewing on his toothpick as he dispassionately tours us through Los Angeles.
The pacing of the film is excellent, and keeps the audience on its toes; just as you are lulled into some comfortable character exposition you are suddenly whip-cracked into a mess of violently deafening crunches of metal on metal and boot on skull. This is not by any means the most violent movie I have ever seen, but they certainly earn their ‘R’ rating and I believe the violence enhances the tension. Some may disagree. But this is noir; in this world the seedy underbelly of society brings everyone down to its level, even the ones who just drive.