Drive opens with an ongoing heist, but the attention is not on the burglars, it isn't on the people being robbed, actually, we don't see the inside of the building being robbed, at all. Instead an we follow the driver (Ryan Gosling), he has his own code that he follows religiously - he works anonymously, refuses to carry a gun, and only waits five minutes before leaving. For the first ten minutes of the film we watch as he goes the driver goes about his work: patiently waiting his clients to return as he listens to a police radio, then avoiding attention, and once they are ultimately spotted he works his magic. Not one word is spoken by the driver in this period of time.
Based on James Sillis' novel of the same name, but also inspired by Bullitt (1968) - starring the great Steve Mcqueen - and Walter Hill's crime drama, The Driver (1978). Surprisingly, unlike those films there aren't any time-consuming car chases, they come in short doses, but boy are they potent. The opening escape sequence equals any 70s action flick in entertainment value and skillful delivery. Elements of film noir is what gives Drive such an appeal. From the taciturn hero trying to protect the helpless damsel to the sinister villains standing in his way. The plot follows a formulaic noir plot structure with predictable plot variations, but the slight moments of predictablilty are ignorable because this film uses the reliability of its familiar narrative to bring a modern brashness to the classic feel.
Gosling "drives" the film with his performance. The isolated, cautious personality of the driver and how he always seems to be feeling-out his associates is strengthened by Gosling's long, lingering pauses and quick retorts. His role as the driver allows its depth to be revealed through actions, what we are told about his character is minimal, so the rest of the work was put of his shoulders and he delivers a performance that is one of the finest of his soaring career.
Italian writer Hossein Amini is best known for his Oscar-nominated script for The Wings of the Dove (1997) which was a powerful emotional drama that feautured a sensational performance by Helena Bonham Carter. Since then he became a respected action-thriller writer with his scripts for The Four Feathers (2002) and Shanghai (2010). With Drive, Amini had the challenge of adapting a very complex novel which followed a non-linear narrative and also working with a director who was inspired by countless films and wanted to utilize that inspiration is many forms. His dialogue is agressive and to-the-point, it has a slick delivery and is chop-full of qoutable remarks. The dialogue isn't used to extremes, instead it is used solely to create emotionally tension which makes this film deeper that any other action film out there right now.
The relationship between the driver and his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos) is touching. Carey Mulligan is wonderful as Gosling's love interest, their chemistry is effortless and simple. But Mulligan's performance is nothing more than a set-up for the violence to come.When Irene's husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns from prison and his troubles return. Gosling's driver must protect the family who have shown him the closest thing to affection other than his respecting relationship with his garage employer, Shannon (Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston). Ron Perlman as the macho Nino is a satisfying performance, but Albert Brooks' torn villain role is a scene stealer.
Drive marks the first time Nicolas Winding Refn has brought his ultra-stylized direction to the United States. His gritty debut film, Pusher (1996) immediately solidified him as a daring force in Europe - he would go on to make two equally acclaimed sequels. Although, it is Bronson (2008) that made him known to Western audiences. Bronson is his A Clockwork Orange (1971) inspired, extremely glamorized biopic of one of Britain's most notorious criminals, Michael "Bronson" Peterson. Refn tones his direction down and he succeeds in creating a well-paced film that draws us in by the chemistry and touching relationships between his characters then gradually coming back to the brash, thrilling violence that his fans admire him for.
Entertaining from its thrilling start to the subtle ending, Drive runs like a classic noir with a modern style. Nicolas Winding Refn's direction is moderated with its plot development and unflinching with the flashes of stylized violence. The retro atmosphere is strengthened by Newton Thomas Sigel's pulpy camera. Gosling continues to prove why he is one of the brightest stars working today with one of the best pure action performances of recent years. Refn uses all of Drive's inspirations and the end result is a completely authentic film with classic roots and a universal appeal.