This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 30th October 2011
The moment Ryan Gosling, toothpick dangling from mouth, straps on his leather driving gloves and takes off to some mysterious destination, you sense this film is going to be one hell of a ride. The bright pink 1980s-style font in the title sequence and a Vangelis-inspired soundtrack are evidence that Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn knows how to inject more than a little panache into an otherwise derivative crime caper. The fact that Drive seems to derive from the very best of its genre simply makes the comparisons thrilling.
Think Michael Mann directing Tarantino’s True Romance, starring a young Nic Cage lookalike, photographed like Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. The bright lights of LA pimp out the perfect backdrop for Gosling’s unnamed antihero, who works as a Hollywood stuntman by day and a getaway-driver-for-hire by night. Frustratingly taciturn, we don’t learn anything about his private world, but his shiny white bomber jacket and nonchalant gait indicate the “Driver” can handle himself. Probably if you were there next to him in real life, Gosling’s steady gaze would come off as creepy – but on celluloid, he’s enthralling.
He becomes gently embroiled in the life of the single mum next door (an unusual, but largely successful, change of scene for Carey Mulligan), whose jailbird husband is played with typical intensity by the very fine Oscar Isaac (Sucker Punch, Body of Lies). Christina Hendricks dons a tracksuit and attitude, and there are great performances from the older thugs, notably Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston and movie legend Albert Brooks.
Adapted for the screen by the talented Hossein Amini, whose previous work includes excellent period pieces, Drive feels like a heady return to the best 90s’ crime movies, not afraid to discharge a shotgun, stomp on a head, or stick a fork in someone’s eye. It’s brutal, it’s gruesome and it’s a blast.