Film Review – Drive
Outlet: MR VIDEO, Nelson Mandela Avenue
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenplay: Hossein Amini (screenplay); James Sallis (book)
Music: Cliff Martinez
Players: Ryan Gosling; Carey Mulligan; Bryan Cranston; Albert Brooks; Ron Perlman
Genre: action; thriller; drama
This is an intelligent action film for the discriminating viewer. Instead of an action hero who is all brawn and no brains, the Driver (Gosling) is both intelligent and fearless, probably because he seems to take each day phlegmatically as it comes – and has little to lose if the next day is not on the horizon.
The’ driver’ has no name, no background and little dialogue to speak of. He is utterly inscrutable, seemingly with ice in his veins – and yet – when he meets Irene, his neighbour in an adjoining apartment, he conveys volumes merely through facial expression and body language. His character seems almost bi-polar: he is capable of overwhelming gentleness and kindness to the vulnerable Irene; he is also capable of bone-chilling violence, without a flicker of an eyelid.
Gosling captured my admiration with his portrayal of the feisty lawyer, buoyant with hubris, who is almost destroyed in the cat-and-mouse game in ‘Fractured’. In that role, too, he proved convincingly capable of a 180°- personality switch: from arrogant, self-seeking Public Prosecutor to a man of great integrity and grit, stoically prepared to risk and lose all for the honour of engineering good triumphant. In a way, he plays Driver in this film with the same steely ardour.
The film starts with a car chase. The first facet of Driver that we meet is as the getaway driver for a robbery; his character seems cast in stone, as does his face. He flutters not a muscle but is absolutely focussed on eluding his pursuers. This, it would seem, is a kind of moonlighting employment for him; he works at a garage, works as a film stuntman when opportunity presents itself, and is also in cahoots with his boss (Cranston) in a deal for him to race, providing that his petty-hoodlum boss can twist the arms of crime bosses further up the food chain to finance this scheme. It seems a thin, implausible idea, since the boss is relying purely upon his knowledge of the Driver’s skill as the motivator for money and profit.
So Driver’s focussed life begins to diverge. Apart from the racing scheme, his life embarks upon fundamental change when he meets his neighbour, Irene (Mulligan), who seems to have been abandoned with one child. It transpires that her husband, a petty criminal, who lacked the brains and initiative to escape the law, is languishing in prison. The Driver initially is simply helpful in a material way but, despite his complete lack of revealing dialogue, his facial expression makes it perfectly clear that he is smitten. Mulligan brings a child-like simplicity to the role of Irene: she is modest, unassuming, and asks little of life, except the freedom to mother her son. She allows the Driver into her life by degrees, with no artifice or expectation involved. The Driver, too, adopts a stern celibacy, content only to do good in his role as surrogate husband and father, generally offering security and protection. Aggressive he may be as he moves in the underworld of petty crime and organised violence, but in the dowdy apartment block in which they both live, he is gentle and supportive. At worst, the Driver is bi-polar; at best he has chameleon-style changeability, suiting personality to situation as needed.
At this point it would seem that the driver’s life is diverging to offer positive benefits but, alas, this is not destined to last. Enter the two hoodlums who are pestered by the garage boss to finance the racing scheme. Bernie Rose (Brooks) seems superficially charming and co-operative, his shiny suit indicative of successful sales techniques more than anything else. His partner, Nino (Perlman) is more in line with Mafia nasties in the Tarantino films – his steadfast belief is that bullying and violence are the only way to impose one’s will. They seem to make an unlikely partnership, and, indeed, their polarised approach to business deals is initially confusing. Brooks has been nominated for several film awards for his role in this film as supporting actor.
Drive is violent, brutal, and offers a steely view of people and their motives. Characters are strong or weak and there is nothing in-between. The driver and Irene, in their naïve and trusting relationship, seem part of another world, in a worthier place. There is great poignancy in their fate, as tragic in its own way as Romeo and Juliet, or Tristan and Isolde. The Gosling character may drive excellently well, but he is also driven – by good impulses. The director won Best Director at both the Cannes Film Festival and Palm d’Or. ‘Drive’ has an impressive list of nominations, including an Oscar for sound editing, for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay, and for Music and Sound. The film deserves every one of them. The film has a European starkness and realism, which may account for its recognition at European film festivals. My admiration for Gosling remains undaunted: the film is worth watching for his acting alone.