I saw a clip of Drive at Movie Con a couple of months ago, and we were warned before it started of the extreme violence involved – violence not really on a par with Final Destination 5, which we had also been warned about, but then you’re always sure of where you are with a teen film. The warning before the Drive clip was more alarming, and I dutifully crouched between my fingers. It was the scene in the lift. People who have seen the film will know what I’m talking about – others who haven’t, THERE’S A HORRIBLE SCENE IN THE LIFT. Think Casey Affleck in The Killer Inside Me. But, on the other hand, there’s also an amazing scene in the lift, as before we get the extreme violence we also get ultracool, smooth, gorgeous filmmaking as our protagonist gently pushes the girl away from the enemy and kisses her – like a final goodbye – bathed in a golden light, the pace slowed right down. And that’s the style of Drive – the effortlessly cool movie of the year.
If you don’t know the story behind the making of Drive then you should – I banged on about it here quite a bit. You don’t often get anecdotes that pre-empt a film like that, and it engaged me immediately. The story not so much. Based on the novel by James Sallis it’s about a man (Ryan Gosling), only called ‘Driver’, who works for stunt car scenes in L.A. by day but at night he’s a getaway driver for bloodied heists. His life is interrupted by the arrival of a woman in his apartments called Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, who have moved here as the husband and father, Standard, is serving time in prison. Slowly a bond begins to form between the three of them, and without a lot being said he becomes the father figure of the family. But then Standard is released from jail, and caught up in some messy business with a dangerous bunch of mobsters led by Nino (Ron Perlman). Driver agrees to help him out because he cares about the family, but things go badly wrong and he finds a contract has been placed on his head.
My word this film had some cast. Not only Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan as the leads but Bryan Cranston! Christina Hendricks! Ron Perlman! I was excited just watching the credits come up, never mind anything else. They were all brilliant – even Carey Mulligan who I find a tad overrated. Bryan Cranston was utterly sympathetic as the too-trusting mechanic who goes to the wrong people to get money for his race car dream. And it was great to see Christina Hendricks in a non Joan role, here playing the trashy deceiving foil in a raid on a pawn shop. I did find it interesting how Ryan Gosling specifically asked for his character to have very little dialogue (too many “talky” films lately) – it makes Driver a lot harder to read, and to relate to. There are no clues given to why he is the way he is, and why he’s involved with underground criminals. It adds to the enigma of the film, which of course in turn makes it cooler, as the protagonist is admirable (if for his loyalty) but also intensely mysterious.
The star is the soundtrack. Nicolas Winding Refn is a brilliant director, creating moods and tone out of colour and dreamy slo-mo, but it’s the music he chooses to set the story to (and a deserved nod here to composer Cliff Martinez, who also did the music for Wicker Park – now I know he’s a God) that stylises the film. Its instant electro-pop sounds ooze cool, and coat the film in a class and charisma that catches your attention from the very first frame. Standouts include “Tick of the Clock” which opens the film, and “A Real Hero” where the Driver seals his fate. The only not completely convincing touch? The chic-flick style hot pink credits font. It does throw you into When Harry Met Sally for a second or two.
The only thing which spoiled the film for me, which I thought was amazing to watch and to immerse yourself in, was the unnerving sense of extreme violence that could happen at any minute. There’s a hammer. There’s a fork. There’s slicing up you don’t want to ever see again. It’s unflinching, but the heart involved in the relationship between Driver and Irene (and the little boy in fact) and the astonishingly assured car chases and getaways make this mesmerising. It’s far better than the nearest film I could compare it to, which is the aforementioned The Killer Inside Me.
Be prepared to hide a few times (yes I’m a girl!) but go and see Drive and marvel at the anti-Hollywood that’s being produced from a group of its elite.