To speak too much of Drive is to rob you of its many (many) pleasures, so we’ll spare you some of the details and let you take a look under its hood yourself. Suffice to say that everything you may have heard about Nicolas Winding Refn’s thriller so far is, indeed, very true — this is a pretty damn good film.
In fact, let’s just go for it and call it a great film. It’s the least we can do, ’cause the film itself, most definitely, goes for it.
Ryan Gosling (a bona-fide movie star, and that’s that) plays a nameless rogue (Refn calls him “Driver,” and so shall we) who works as a Hollywood stunt driver. The gig pays well enough, but the big money comes from his second job: driving the getaway car for people who want to steal stuff (for real). His is an isolated existence consisting of big thrills, high-stakes risks and rather tragic loneliness — and, when he actually attempts something resembling real human contact (with his cutie neighbor, played by Carey Mulligan), everything promptly spins out of control and straight to hell.
Driver decides he’s going to “save” this poor girl, a struggling single mom whose creep husband (Oscar Isaacs) is just getting out of the joint. Hubby managed to get into a lot of debt during his time in prison, and Driver ends up being involved in delivering the payoff. The whole thing is a set-up, though, and soon our stuntman and his would-be ladylove are in big trouble with a career criminal and ex-movie producer (Albert Brooks, vying for that Best Supporting Actor Oscar with a terrifically scary performance) and his nasty enforcer (Ron Perlman, looking like he’s enjoying himself).
Sure, it’s a familiar kind of story, but that’s part of the point. Drive is, amongst many other things, a loving homage to the cinema of yesteryear. The film’s moody, dreamlike tone suggests that we’re watching a vague memory, one with the neon glow of Miami Vice and featuring the kind of stoic anti-hero of Bullitt. Refn’s film is a valentine to an era when movies were, indeed, cool — long before we were able to download films and watch them on our damn phones, we made an event out of going to the cinema, where strangers would gather, the lights would go down and a one-of-a-kind experience unfurled.
But Drive is more than just a piece of cinematic nostalgia. The story takes place in contemporary times, and the film has an intense sense of immediacy to it — it just feels alive. While some of the music (most of it electronica, all of it excellent), design (L.A. practically glows) and costumes (Gosling’s sweet, sweet jacket) will remind you of the early works of Michael Mann (particularly Thief and Manhunter) and even David Lynch (there’s something very Blue Velvet-ish about this movie), you’ll never feel like the story isn’t happening here and now. Indeed, it says something about the abilities of director Refn in that Drive feels more like an actual experience than most modern thrillers — you feel like you’re Gosling’s passenger every step of the way, whether its in his car (a burly Ford Mustang that’s as much a character as anyone else in the film), in an elevator (the location of one of the film’s many ultraviolent setpieces) or in the office of Gosling’s manager (played by Bryan Cranston, excellent as always).
Sure, maybe some more time could’ve been spent on character development, and the plot contains maybe one too many contrivances and coincidences. But even if its exterior shine is ultimately a little more impressive than its engine, Drive is one awesome ride, one you’ll probably want to take more than once. In the meantime, get to a theater as soon as you can and give it a test spin — we think you’ll agree that it’s a keeper.