One of the most elegant and entertaining thrillers of the year, Drive left me pleasantly surprised. A neo-noir style thriller with elements of the first classic action movies, Drive taps deeper into human emotion than most thrillers, and while sometimes hidden deep, the emotions run strong. The entire film is also a grand exercise in style as director Nicolas Winding Refn brings audiences through a compelling crime story filled with greatly planned shots, from close-ups to car chases the film is brilliantly conceived and executed. Drive might just be one of my favourite films of 2011.
We are introduced to an unnamed protagonist (Ryan Gosling), a stunt-car driver for Hollywood who moonlights as a driver on heists. He doesn’t carry a gun, he doesn’t come along on the jobs, and he only gives you exactly five minutes of his time. This has kept the Driver safe up until the start of the film, but at the same time we are unsure of the Driver’s history. He seems almost to appear and disappear at will, like some sort of phantom. He’s a good old-fashioned action star – like Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name – with a more modern twist. He seems to carry few emotions but has strong morality, and we are unsurprised that he is capable of great acts of violence, as his silent character seems to show much more through body language than he communicates verbally. A hero defined by his actions and not his words, the protagonist of Drive is a strong male lead reminiscent of Hollywood’s classic action flicks, while showing strong loyalty and deeply hidden emotion.
The Driver lives in an apartment building in Los Angeles. His new neighbours are a woman named Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son named Benicio. The Driver befriends Irene, whose husband is about to be released from prison. Unexpectedly, her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is not jealous and instead grateful that the Driver has looked after his family. Standard is in debt to some guys from his time in prison, and he asks the Driver for assistance on a million dollar heist job. The job goes south and the Driver is forced to use his skills to escape the scene. He gets away with the money and lands in trouble with some local gangsters. I won’t spoil the rest, all you need to understand is the silent and conflicted, but always moral, hero character of the Driver. Luckily the plot does not end in an over-simplified CGI action scene and instead cleverly unfolds.
A highly stylish thriller with components of both neo-noire and classic action cinema, Drive is one of the best films of 2011, but definitely not the best film of the year. Director Nicolas Winding Refn very effectively uses his actors to avoid archetypes and to create emotionally deep characters for a thriller film. Drive is eloquent in its style, but humble in its procedure of exploring a relatively simple story. While not a ground breaking instant classic, Drive certainly has the makings of a cult classic.