Beautiful, but Not for Everyone: A Review of Drive

I know I said this would be a site focused on science fiction and fantasy, but I couldn’t resist reviewing Drive. It’s a great movie that I don’t think is getting the attention it deserves.

Drive trailer

Drive begins with hot pink lettering and synthpop music before showing a man wearing a silk jacket with a scorpion embroidered on the back. You’d be forgiven if you began to wonder why your local theater was showing something that seemed more at home on late night cable. But director Nicolas Winding Refn is not offering you two hours of schlock. He’s using these things to signal that the movie is a little over the top. You can think of it as a comic book, or more of a fairy tale, as Ryan Gosling recently described it, but it’s not a simple, throwaway movie. It takes elements from a variety of film categories, mixes them expertly, casts it smartly, and films it gracefully. In the end, Drive is something stunning to watch.

Drive is the story of a man (Gosling) of few words, no name, and no real background. Following the western tradition, this man is defined by his actions. But he’s not a gunfighter, he’s a driver: a getaway driver, a stunt driver, and a would-be stock car driver. His talent helps his boss, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), attract investment by mob boss Bernie (Albert Brooks–a surprising but incredible choice).

At the same time, the driver attracts the attention of his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan). They grow close, until Irene’s husband, Standard, is released from prison. Naturally, Standard is suspicious of the quiet stranger who has become close to his wife and son. But the driver doesn’t try to defend himself or apologize. In fact, watching the driver react to the world around him is one of the more rewarding elements of this film. For the most part, the driver is stoic, holding a lot back. But when pressed, he holds nothing back.

Ultimately, Standard cannot escape his criminal past and must participate in one last heist. Of course, the driver offers to help, and of course the heist goes wrong. The danger builds as we watch the driver struggle to control his world.

He fights for survival, dealing with a variety of low lifes (including Christina Hendricks as a lookout and Ron Perlman as a mob tough guy). And that brings up my one complaint about this movie–the fights. They are ultra-violent and ultra-graphic. I don’t think they should be enough to dissuade you from seeing Drive, but if you are squeamish, this might be an issue. Drive is certainly not for younger audience members.

Drive is wonderfully shot and acted. For the most part, the pacing is slower, like a good character study should be (and yes, the characters are well-developed despite a lot of action movie tropes). But this helps the increase the tension before it is released with a whack of violence and action. Like a muscle car, Drive is beautiful, but not for everyone.