With its slick back approach and hyper kinetic moments of violence, Drive is a film that looks terrific. Think of it as a hot pink corvette, one that demands your attention. As intoxicating as the film’s sugar coated visuals can be, they pale in comparison to the mystifying level of love that permeates throughout. A quick look under the hood and one can easily see that Drive is a fairytale that hinges on the requited love of a prince charming. As fairy tales have taught us, prince charming has a candor of loyal descent and the moral aptitude of a deeply religious person. That’s not who we are given. Drive’s male hero, easily given the moniker Driver (Ryan Gosling), is a soft-spoken stuntman by day and a getaway driver by night. Not one who easily affiliates himself with another human being, outside of his mentor of sorts in Shannon (Bryan Cranston), the Driver is a freelance getaway man who only affords his thieving clients a five-minute window. Within that five-minute time frame, he might as well be a part of their blood line because he is strangely devout. Once the sands of time slip away into oblivion and the five minutes are up, Driver disappears into the night where he cruises around Los Angeles in attempt to achieve a state of peace.
Driver’s past is absent from our view, but we get a sense of an over protective man that hides behind the emphatic coolness he dispels. Driver does for varsity jackets what the Fonz did for leather jackets: He makes them seem infinitely cooler. Exploiting Driver’s altruistic side is Irene (Carey Mulligan), an independent mother who must care for her child while her husband handsomely pays his debt to society. Irene and Driver find solace in one another as their chance encounters grow into premeditated moments of fondness. The chemistry developed between Mulligan and Gosling is palpable as we can see two souls convincingly connect with one another at an expedited rate. The nuances and deep gazes established between the two lay the foundation for the absurdity that takes place later in the film, but it’s impressive that director Nicolas Winding Refn and screenwriter Hossein Amini can craft a budding romance without giving into physical gestures. In any event, as movie lore would have it, this affectionate and powerfully platonic romance hits the back burner when Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), returns home. Then things get messy. Upon his arrival home, Standard has a monetary burden placed upon his head. In Lehman terms, he must pay back the goons that protected him in prison. Not sure how he’s going to achieve such an objective, and with men in suits threatening his family life, Standard turns to Driver for advice.
Driver volunteers his services in an attempt to protect the vivacious beauty he finds in Irene and her son. As the film’s tagline indicates, there is no clean getaway. An attempted robbery is botched and soon Driver finds himself in a mob conspiracy that leaves a trail of blood and money that can’t be swept under the rug. He’s in too deep now and must see his way to the top to protect Irene from the menaces of the underworld. Driver’s fears are overwhelmed by a love he’ll die to protect. It’s a love that is unflinchingly depicted in an elevator sequence that will melt your heart and force you to cover your eyes. With the elevator walls caving in on him, Driver’s supply of love fuels a face stomping that goes beyond “the curb stomp” in American History X. It’s scenes like these, scenes that are horrendously violent and drenched in some sense of reality, that litter the second half of the film. They’d be pointless without the underlining level of romanticism that works within. Driver doesn’t commit senseless acts of violence. They’re calculated, perhaps extreme, but always justified from the perspective of a prince coming to save his princess. Stoic as ever, Ryan Gosling gives one of his best performances to date. His facial tics and body language suggest that a hopeless romantic lies underneath a body that exudes confidence and physical dominance. For each ounce of blood that finds its way to Driver’s jacket, Gosling gives enough pathos to wipe away the senselessness of the death that comes along with it.
Although Carey Mulligan also delivers an achingly poignant performance, she is outshined by Albert Brooks’ character, Bernie Rose, the eventual roadblock to Irene’s safety. I dare not say too much about Brook’s involvement with the film because his character has a continuously evolving role in the carnage, but his performance is spectacularly complex and oddly endearing. Much like Driver has his reasoning for his actions, Bernie Rose is a man that can convince the person he’s killing that it’s a justifiable offense. Think Anton Chigurh with a more finely tuned ethical compass. Where the actors craft a terrific character tale, director Nicolas Winding Refn makes sure his film glides as smoothly as a car drifting. The locations are exotic, the light sparse, the car chases are well executed and the soundtrack emanates from the 80’s. Most importantly, love and violence consummate in an unforgettable fashion.