Review: Drive (2011)

Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston

For those who truly cherish the subject, film can be and often is construed as an art form. By deftly blending aesthetic beauty with a compelling narrative and cast of characters, filmmakers are allowed to employ their respective, intelligible palettes of creativity in an attempt to produce something awe-inspiring and masterful in its artistic sensibilities. Using Drive as a prime example of this criminally understated approach to filmmaking, director Nicolas Winding Refn has essentially done the unthinkable in crafting a nearly perfect work that forgoes the typically convoluted, uninspired trajectories some very recent disasters have unashamedly taken.

It’s easy to tell that Drive is a film lover’s film through and through, maintaining its sense of self-worth and artistic integrity from start to finish. Remaining somewhat noir-ish in several aspects as we’re offered just enough insight into the life and mind of our central character, Driver as he coolly makes the transition from wheelman to Hollywood stuntman in a detached, overly familiar fashion, the film admirably maintains this air of detachment throughout its stellar opening sequences. Aided perfectly by a pulse-pounding, 80s-infused musical score, the opening in question effectively sets the bar high for the remainder of the film, of which never ceases to entertain in light of a purposefully streamlined narrative that sidesteps any and all excess.

While Drive manages to continually impress on all fronts, Driver is soon introduced to the lovely Irene, a neighbor who he soon becomes acquainted with and particularly fond of along with her impressionable young son, Benicio. Once again feeding us as much as we need to establish a base emotional connection with these characters, the previously stoic Driver included, we soon learn that Irene’s husband has recently been released from prison, only to be forced into repaying an outstanding mob debt that he himself cannot repay alone. Employing Driver as his accomplice for the job that will effectively squash said debt, things quickly go awry as a simple robbery turns sour at the hands of those who recently threatened the ex-con. Now on the lam from those who very clearly want him dead, Driver in turn becomes dead set on protecting the woman and child at any cost, even if it means frequently putting to use his driving expertise or crushing a skull or two with his boot heel.

It’s at this point that Winding Refn employs his overt fondness of violence in a mildly gratuitous fashion, yet these brief instances seem to be warranted in their inclusion, stylish as such and serve to accentuate the importance of Driver’s heart-rending mission to free Irene and Benicio from the mob’s clutches. Each encounter with the individuals that pose a threat to one or both parties proves to be more violent than the last, all of which exhibit the breathtaking visual panache Drive consistently prides itself on while ensuring us our protagonist’s bouts of anguish certainly won’t be in vain. It’s with the latter act’s drastic increase in action-oriented intensity that we realize just how determined Driver is in completing the task at hand, and in spite of all the adroit detachment that previously went hand-in-hand with his calm and collected demeanor, we manage to establish a much firmer emotional fondness of the character that has us rooting for him at every turn.

Style aside, Drive‘s performances add even more appeal to what can easily be considered the best film of the year and beyond. Gosling’s presence alone is incredibly imposing, his portrayal of Driver remaining remarkable beyond belief as he takes firm control of every sequence with the utmost grace and poise. Exhibiting the aforementioned anguish that lurks and grows inside him like a tumor as those he cares about begin to slowly slip away, Gosling proves that he’s very capable of balancing both noticeable sides of the character’s intermittently turbulent personality. The chemistry he exhibits with costars Cranston and Mulligan is at first reserved, yet it blossoms as the proceedings begin to liven up a bit, ensuring that the efforts of the latter individuals remain noteworthy as well. Albert Brooks also delivers as local crime boss Bernie Rose, aptly assuming the role of supervillain to Gosling’s role as the superhero.

As a breathtaking work of staggering artistic genius, Drive very admirably fits the bill. Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest cinematic triumph manages to combine an intelligible visual flair and a phenomenal score with a purposefully stripped down, cat-and-mouse crime caper so wonderfully that it very much establishes itself as a true testament to film as a recognizable art form. Emotionally detached as we may be as Drive first revs its engine, the simplicity of the agreeably compelling narrative and Gosling’s Driver’s persistence in protecting his newfound love interest aim to let us care for all involved as the film nears its predictably stylish, gratifying conclusion. It’s a shame films like this only come around every once in a while, but during a year of chronic disappointment, Drive is the breath of fresh air we all needed as budding or established film connoisseurs.

Rating: 10/10

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