NWR. I had never heard about those initials before I saw Drive. But as you may know due to my reviews on other of his films, his name on the credits have turned into a seal of quality. He has as many fans as detractors, probably, since his use of hardcore violence and alternative narrative is definitely not for everyone. Does the same thing happen with his most famous picture too? Let’s talk about the movie that started it all.
A Hollywood stunt double who also works as a getaway driver is trying to leave his dark and violent past behind upon meeting Irene, a lovely neighbor of his, and falling for her. However, problems arise when he meets Irene’s husband, who has spent a few years in prison and now needs the driver’s help for a job that will hopefully be his last.
Ryan Gosling stars Drive as the nameless driver, and wow, what a performance he gives, by far the best of his career (yes, even when taking the terrific La La Land into account!). His character is reserved and quiet yet very expressive with his gaze. He’s not a bad guy, just a good-hearted man whose life has gone off-track. That’s a lot of details that Gosling achieves to convey with subtleties such as the way he looks at people. Rarely does he have a line with over three words, so his job at making the audience understand his backdrop and motives is particularly remarkable.
The rest of the cast does a great job too, especially Carey Mulligan in the role of Irene. The chemistry she and Gosling have is a joy to watch, and the way their relationship involves is amazing. Standard, Irene’s husband, is played by Oscar Isaac, whose performance fits the tone of the movie to perfection. Others such as Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman provide very good performances too, even if they don’t shine as much.
Once again, Refn collaborates with Cliff Martinez for the soundtrack, and the results are hypnotic. The synth of the electronic score that surrounds the film is dazzling, captivating and evoking. Some songs that weren’t tailor-made for Drive are used throughout the movie too, all of which obtain impressive results, with a special mention to “A Real Hero”.
Drive is a wonderfully directed piece of film-making, one that perfectly knows what you show and what to explain, as well as what to leave for the viewers to interpret. It’s definitely not an obtuse experience (unlike the director’s more recent work), the story follows a quite traditional narrative that no one should have problems to follow. But there are lots of elements in the story that have additional interpretations, so understanding them will enhance the experience of the most avid cinema lovers. It is no surprise taking into account the other movies Refn has directed, but a reminder is never bad: every single shot is meaningful and carefully crafted, it really seems no detail was overlooked at all. He is one of the most detail-oriented film-makers of our time.
As in every NWR movie, the cinematography is absolutely fantastic. The LA nightscapes look jaw-dropping, the clever use of light in interiors creates tension and the contrast created in the famous elevator scene is incredible. Unlike in other titles such as The Neon Demon, the use of light is more natural here, though. Colours are shiny, and lighting artistic, but in a more realistic way, and this gives the film an authentic feel that greatly benefits it. In addition, those who find the cinematography of his other work too cheesy or pretentious will find every shot much more compelling.
Many people argued that the violence featured in Drive was way too gory, and while I do understand why they felt that way, I believe it’s a necessary contrast with the otherwise calm vibe the movie has. The tension built from scene to scene explodes in visceral scenes that leave nothing to imagination. We see guts, we see brains. And that’s essential in order the film to work properly, as it has gives it a sense of real danger that we rarely have the chance to see.
However, the main problem the movie has is the marketing campaign it had. The trailers made it look a “Transporter” or “Fast and Furious” kind of flick and when the audience realised how slow-paced, how based on characters it really is, they were disappointed. Well, they can’t be blamed, but I do believe the reception the film had is quite unfair, anyways. This is not the typical popcorn-munching experience. It’s more profound than that, it’s a story about well constructed and written characters in difficult situations, one that requires a slow and intricate evolution of the plot in order to be told appropriately.
Drive has “Nicolas Winding Refn” written all over it. It’s stylish, boasts an extraordinary cinematography, improves each time you watch it due to its metaphors and hidden meanings… It is, by far, the best film he’s ever done. And that means a lot taking into account his filmography.
You know the story about the scorpion and the frog? 10/10
P.S To those who have watched Drive and are wondering what the “hidden meanings” are all about, I recommend to find the analysis Chris Stuckmann did about it. You can find it on YouTube.