- Director:Nicolas Winding Refn
- Cast:Ryan Gosling, Christina Hendricks, Carey Mulligan
- Release Date:October 27, 2011
- Running time:100 minutes
- Film Worth:$19.00
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One of this year’s most original, entertaining and frankly shocking American movies.
Danish-born filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn is fast shaping up as a cinematic provocateur to rival the likes of Werner Herzog and Lars Von Trier - a wildly original voice whose on-screen activity is rivaled by his off-screen inability to censor himself. Refn's films manage to be aggressively violent while never coursing with an obviously male energy. The films that put him on the map - 1996's Pusher, 2004's With Blood On My Hands: Pusher 2 and 2005's I'm The Angel Of Death: Pusher 3 - mix a strange sensitivity into the bloodshed, while the bruising, battering Bronson (about one of Britain's most hardened convicts) was far too theatrical and experimental to be labelled a mere "prison movie." Though he's directed in the English language before (with 2003's underwhelming thriller, Fear X, starring John Turturro), it was undoubtedly the UK-shot Bronson that got Refn noticed on a wider scale, leading to Drive, the film that will hopefully push him into major player territory.
Already a winner at The Cannes Film Festival - with Refn picking up the coveted Best Director gong - Drive is now generating hacksaw-like buzz, and is without a doubt one of this year's most original, entertaining and frankly shocking American movies.
Based on crime author James Sallis' novel, Drive is a neo-noir collision of classic crime movie tropes and genuine weirdness. The brilliant Ryan Gosling is the nameless Driver, a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a robbery getaway wheelman. A card-carrying existential loner, he knows LA's winding, car-crowded streets like the back of his hand, and his only real form of human connection is with Shannon (the hard working Bryan Cranston in another stellar piece of character work), a broken-down but wired-in mechanic who sets up Driver's jobs, both legal and otherwise. When Driver's pretty neighbour, single mother, Irene (the charming but grittily authentic Carey Mulligan takes another step in establishing herself as the actress of the moment with a truly affecting performance), catches his eye, it initially warms Driver's heart, but soon lands him in a world of hurt.
Splashed with wildfire violence - Fork in eyeball? Check. Heads blown off? Check. Straight razors? Check. - Drive is a delirious one of a kind, sitting right on the line between swaggering cinematic bravado and flat-out absurdity. Though you'll laugh in many of the film's violent set pieces, they never become a joke. Drive remains at every turn a movie - this is no standard gritty crime flick steeped in realism. The very product of American movie-making itself, the cinematic influences on Drive are profound, many and excellently developed. Though most hipster critics have fallen over themselves in comparing the film to cool existentialist car movies like Bullitt or Walter Hill's The Driver, Refn's highly contemporary thriller actually feels more like a modern western. With Gosling like an outsider gunslinger trying to protect a decent but compromised family - and sharing a chaste love for the wife and a grudging respect for the husband - Drive at times feels like a super-charged, modernised version of George Stevens' classic western, Shane. Bryan Cranston's hobbling Shannon, meanwhile, isn't too far away from the compromised geezers famously played by western stalwart, Walter Brennan. Far from making the film feel derivative, however, these disparate influences actually dose Drive with an even more keen sense of strangeness and originality.
This strangeness is further punched home by the film's bizarre cast of bad guys. Of all American actors, jittery nice guy Albert Brooks is perhaps the least likely villain of all time, but as Machiavellian LA crook Bernie Rose, he is a stroke of casting genius. Mixing dry humour and ice-cold malice, expect to see Brooks nabbing an Oscar nomination come awards season. Ron Perlman is an equally curious casting choice as his cruel but vaguely pathetic partner-in-crime, Nino, while gorgeous Mad Men starlet Christina Hendricks' extraordinary brand of wobbling, hothouse sexuality is put to decidedly unusual use as the weary, joyless gangster's moll, Blanche.
With its offbeat characters, jarring jolts of shocking violence, and labyrinthine but accessible plotting, Drive is a real stand-alone - in an often moribund American cinematic landscape, it feels loopily, dangerously, and wonderfully alive.