There is a defining moment in Drive, when Ryan Gosling stops smiling. The subtle change from soft-hearted mechanic to vigilante protector and maker-of-all-things-right creeps in and marks the point of decent into violence for this leading character, whose only motivation is to protect the woman and child he loves, but hardly knows.
Based on the novel by James Sallis and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, the opening teaser of Drive could play as a short film in itself. Here, Gosling’s character “Driver” is introduced as a lone wolf, contracted to drive get-away cars for L.A underworld heists. “Driver” is dangerously serious, smooth, and in total control for the 5 minutes that he is employed in the racket. Any time either side of that, he declares independence and lives a simple withdrawn life as a stunt car driver for Hollywood films. That is until he meets “Irene”, his point of obsession played exceptionally by the great Carey Mulligan. The genuine interplay between “Driver” and “Irene” would otherwise be misplaced in an action film. They hardly converse, preferring to hold each other’s gaze and smile bashfully until they come to the reality of the awkward moment. The distinction here is Refn’s choice to opt out of the conventional shot sequence between these two characters, and employ a type of long take, letting the camera linger on their interactions to the breaking point. These soft moments, create the backbone of the film and are pivotal in grounding Gosling’s character as a human before he transcends into monster-vigilante hero.
At the very minimum Drive is about car chases. Refn, whose previous films include Valhalla Rising (2009) and Bronson (2009), favors the exchange of visual language over dialogue, in what is Drive’s 86 page script. At its fruition, the film relies heavily on the core performance of its small cast, and succeeds in producing a cohesive work of art from a pastiche of genres. Borrowing style and pacing from film noir, and using the framework of a classic one last heist story, what emerges is a genuine love story between two unlikely neighbors that tugs at your heartstrings when it all goes wrong.
Outside the parenthesis of the “Driver” and “Irene” love story, tragedy ensues. Cloaked in a euro trashy white silk bomber jacket with an emblematic gold scorpion covering his back, Driver sets out on his path of revenge to make things right, return the loot to its rightful owner and get ‘out of it’ for good.
His vengeful actions are presented in extreme violence, without limit for gruesome details, the type where you might actually need to look away. Yet, at no time, is Gosling’s “Driver” out of control. Each violent act is lean, and premeditated to have a beginning, middle and an end and is contained through his will to be protector. Before and after each violent act, is a tormented soul that weighs the guilt of letting a situation spiral out of control.
The heartbeat of the film, provided by Cliff Martinez curated soundtrack, runs an unequalled parallel to the depth of the character’s, the intensity put forth, and the ethereal vision that Refn has accomplished.