Drive is something we rarely get to see. It’s a smart action movie. I can’t remember the last time I saw an action movie with a brain. Some action movies have attempted to be smart, but most of them have missed the mark. It’s not easy to pull off. This movie does more than succeed. It excels. Before I saw Drive I thought it would just be a good heist movie. I didn’t have high expectations at all. So, I was blown away by the end. After sitting through so many mindless action movies this past year (and beyond), it was a revelation to see this one. I don’t mind those other action movies, but it had been too long without a more unique one.
The main character in Drive (Ryan Gosling) – mysteriously, we never know his name – works as a garage mechanic, drives stunt cars for the movies part-time and, by night, hires out his services to criminals who need a getaway car. We only know him as “Driver.” One day he meets one of his neighbors, Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, Benicio (Kaden Leos). He eventually starts to really like her. Things get more complicated when Irene’s husband gets out of prison. Some bad people want him to do another “job” to pay off a prison debt. They threaten to hurt Irene and Benicio if he refuses. So, Driver reluctantly agrees to help him get out of his debt. Things go wrong – very badly wrong – and this sets the wheels in motion for Driver to go up against a pair of sinister criminals, (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman).
Drive establishes its characters extremely well, something almost unheard of in modern action movies. The first hour of Drive is devoted to developing the characters. This investment in character development pays off. When the movie transitions to action, we are engaged. We care what happens to all the characters. The action scenes in the movie couldn’t have been handled better. They are perfect. The movie has an art house feel to it. The action is gritty and very realistic. The violence is sudden and brutal. Every violent scene, without exception, is jarring – especially as compared to the cartoon, over-the-top violence staged in most action movies. The action here is always believable, something you can really imagine happening. As I wrote, this movie has a brain. It gives its character one too. Not one character does something dumb.
Dialog is sparse in many scenes (especially with Gosling). The characters are so well developed, the acting so superb and the direction so deft, that scenes with little dialog “say” more and have more impact than you might think possible. When the dialog is there, it delivers! This is easily Hossein Amini’s best script writing effort to date. Nicolas Winding Refn’s direction is masterful. He shoots every scene expertly, capturing subtle nuances of emotion seething below the surface. The script and direction take a mob story, with twists and turns that keep you constantly on edge, and tell that story in an intoxicating film noir style. It works incredibly well.
Cliff Martinez’s original music brilliantly underscores the tone for each scene. Overall, he achieves an understated eeriness, which permeates the movie. Other great things about the movie include the cinematography, editing and costumes. After seeing Drive, I want one of those jackets pronto.
The acting is phenomenal from everyone. Ryan Gosling doesn’t have that much dialog in the movie (he still has a good amount, but not as much as another main character would have had in a different movie). The way Gosling plays the role is phenomenal. His performance is very subtle. If done wrong, it would have been completely bland. Fortunately, he makes Driver more than just interesting and compelling – he becomes riveting to watch. Albert Brooks’ performance matches Gosling’s. He plays the villain with a raw performance that keeps you just as interested in the villain as you are in the hero. Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan may get outshined by the leads at times, but they deliver excellent performances themselves. Mulligan and Gosling also have really great chemistry together. Everything feels awkward when two actors are on screen together a lot and don’t mix well with each other. Well, that isn’t the case here. Here, it is spot on and believable. The whole cast gives real performance that are done exceptionally well.
Drive is completely flawless in every sense of the word. Everything about it works to perfection. The script, characters, direction, score, atmosphere, action, pace, style, acting… are all perfect. Usually, after I see a movie, I try to find something wrong with it (even if I really liked it). With Drive, this was an impossible task. All I could do is go along for the best ride I have had in a long time. I highly recommend that you “buckle up” and enjoy the ride, as well. If you’re like me, you’ll want to experience that ride again.