Review of Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Ron Perlman and Christina Hendricks.
Going to Hollywood and working with celebrity actors has been a creative goal for Danish-born director Nicolas Winding Refn for some time. His efforts pay off beautifully with Drive, starring Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stunt car driver turned getaway man. The idea of Refn making a "Hollywood" movie is a source of concern for the small but devoted fan base of his ambitious and brutally beautiful films including Bronson, a high-energy biopic about Britain's most violent prisoner starring Tom Hardy; his Viking drama Valhalla Rising, starring fellow Dane Mads Mikkelsen, the star of the first two gangster films in his Pusher trilogy; as well as his lesser-known films Bleeder and Fear X, starring John Turturro as a husband searching for his wife's killer.
The desire of a European filmmaker to come to Hollywood is almost as old as American movie-making itself. Thankfully, Refn arrives in Los Angeles with all his artistic integrity intact and Drive unfolds as an ice-cold homage to '70s genre movies, or at least his interpretation of Hollywood's best '70s action genre movies.
Gosling’s unnamed character chooses his criminal work carefully until he falls for his pretty neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son (Kaden Leos) and agrees to help her released convict husband (Oscar Isaac) pay off a debt by helping on a robbery. The robbery is a set up and Gosling’s driver soon has to battle local crime bosses (Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks) to protect Irene and her son.
In one of the film's many standout sequences, something akin to dazzling choreography, Gosling’s driver kisses Irene in an apartment building elevator then spins to disarm the hit man sharing the elevator and waiting to kill them.
As the driver, Gosling looks as handsome as ever but reveals a cold heart and a ruthless willingness to do whatever it takes to save the women he's fallen for as well as her son.
Gosling remains best known to mainstream audiences for the recent comedy Crazy, Stupid Love, and his romantic role in The Notebook, but he flashes welcome toughness with Drive. Beneath his pretty face, Gosling flashes a vicious streak and a talent for action.
Christina Hendricks, best known as Man Men's beloved office manager Joan, appears briefly as an accomplice in the ill-fated robbery and she makes an unforgettable impact in one of the film’s most violent scenes.
Carey Mulligan helps balance the stark drama with her sweet personality and girlish appearance. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman give pulpy performances as the bad men who cross the driver’s path.
Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (The Conspirator, Valkyrie) makes beautiful use of Los Angeles’ working-class neighborhoods.
Scriptwriter Hossein Amini (the upcoming 47 Ronin) adapts the James Sallis novel and keeps the action taut and fast moving.
Refn arrives in Hollywood and instead of selling out he continues to build upon his auteur reputation.
If Bronson is a crime story told as a grand opera and his Viking drama Valhalla Rising is Andrei Tarkovsky's take on Conan the Barbarian, then Drive is stark and stripped down to the basics and an earnest balance of Carl Dreyer-inspired austerity and action genre.