The Driver (or “The Kid” as he’s sometimes called) has no real name, at least nothing that’s ever spoken. He is what he does, and that is drive cars. When he’s not being paid to do so as a movie stunt man, he’s paid by criminals as a driver-for-hire. He feels little attachment to others and speaks even less. Still, beneath the silent exterior there’s a hidden depth where he keeps his moral convictions and code. This kind of hero is familiar, if a bit old school. The Driver is clearly modeled after characters like Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt, Clint Eastwood’s the Man with no Name, Toshiro Mifune’s Yojimbo, or even Alain Delon’s Jef Costello. In this case, where his true nature is revealed comes from his associations with his neighbor Irene and her son, Benicio.
Even though the title is Drive, there isn’t actually all that much driving to be seen in this movie. There are a few chase sequences, and they’re well shot with no visible use of CGI, but the bulk of the movie follows the Driver as he interacts with Irene and her son, which allows him to display a hint of his humanity, which seems to be something that hasn’t surfaced in a long time. The first reveal of the character is while he’s working. The movie even begins with him firmly explaining the rules that go along with hiring him. It reminded me a little of The Transporter, but luckily the similarities end there. While on the job, we see the way in which he drives. He’s a true professional, and is not about long and over-the-top car chases. Instead, we see him triumph over the police through his knowledge of the streets and ability to blend into his surroundings (he even drives a Chevy Impala).
The characters are crucial to the flow of the story, and it’s refreshing to see their importance placed over the need to meet expectations of the typical car chase movies. The cast is excellent, featuring Ryan Gosling as the nameless stone-faced protagonist. Although Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn adds a lot of style to the film and really tries to present Gosling as a tough character to match some of the examples I compared him to, he never quite reaches those heights. The character works, but Ryan Gosling doesn’t have the same screen presence as, for example, Steve McQueen does. Maybe he’s just too young, but he lacks that look of someone who’s had a lot of bad experiences and a tough past. As Irene, Carey Mulligan is adorable and fits the part of her role (though it’s a bit difficult to imagine how she ended up married to a criminal), and Bryan Cranston also gives an understated performance as Shannon, the man who hired the Driver and repairs/modifies his cars. The real scene stealers come from the bad guys however, who run a local pizza joint in
|Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks)|
The film is very stylized and though it seems to hearken back to action films of the ‘60s and ‘70s, it has an almost oddly ‘80s feel to it due to the synthesizer-heavy soundtrack (though this choice of music may be due to the European tastes of the director). There’s a lot of slow motion and Refn takes his time telling the story, focusing primarily on developing his characters. Interestingly, because of the reserved and backstoryless nature of the protagonist, a few of his “bonding” scenes with Irene are shown through montage, which keeps us at a constant distance with him. This makes the hyper-violent actions scenes all the more shocking, because we aren’t shown that he’s capable of that level of violence. Still, making the film about the Driver instead of his actual driving is a good choice and makes the story that much more interesting when the action does present itself. Compared to other films in this genre, Drive is an interesting change of pace and a stylish alternative to the sub-par norm. It’s packed with good performances and tells a compelling and layered story. And isn’t watching Albert Brooks stab someone worth the price of admission?