Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #15
Number of Views: Twice
Release Date: May 20, 2011 (Cannes) September 16, 2011 (USA)
Sub-Genre: Crime Fiction
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $77,560,689
Running Time: 100 minutes
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Producers: Michael Litvak, John Palermo, Marc Platt, Gigi Pritzker, Adam Siegel
Screenplay: Hossein Amini
Based on: Drive by James Sallis
Special Effects: Jimmy Lorimar, William H Schirmer
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel
Score: Cliff Martinez
Editing: Matthew Newman
Studio: Bold Films, Odd Lot Entertainment, Marc Platt Productions, Seed Productions
Distributor: Film District
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Pearlman, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac, Kaden Leos
Suggested Audio Candy
 College & Electric Youth “A Real Hero”
 Cliff Martinez “I Drive”
It’s time for something a little different. I feel obliged to justify my decision to include this particular appraisal on a site which is primarily focused on horror films such as Rivers of Grue. The name says it all right? Actually, it doesn’t. You see, as much as I adore the genre and it will always remain the primary focus of my work, I’m also a pretty hardcore enthusiast of film in general. Indeed, if you were to ask me the best two movies that I viewed in 2008 then I would reel off The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men and Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges and without a second’s procrastination. Granted, there exists a common gene between these modern masterpieces and my beloved horror, as both are punctuated with moments of unflinching violence, but my reasoning goes far deeper than simply a few bloodied noses and shallow graves.
I’ll gladly deviate from the well trodden path from time to time if I feel that I can offer a little fresh perspective on a film. Whether horror, thriller, even straight out comedy, it matters not in the grand scheme of things. You see, I refuse to place parameters on what I scribe about, as doing so makes me just another critic and that is something I swore blind I would never be culpable of becoming. In the case of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive it’s not actually too much of a stretch from the usual fare I analyze as it has an incredibly spiteful streak running right through its spine and managed to nestle beneath my skin before the credits rolled and continue to itch for days afterwards. That is no small feat and precious few horror films can boast the same. Suddenly its inclusion appears far more relevant.
Drive wholeheartedly succeeds in pretty much every conceivable respect and is helped, in no small manner, by an alpha whom any heterosexual male truly comfortable in their skin would hold their hands up to man crushing on. I kid you not, The Gosling as he is affectionately referred, can polish a wall just by leaning against it. Chiseled from women’s forbidden desires, his lean, clean and mean physique tells only half the tale. He also possesses that James Dean swagger, airing just enough on the right side of smarmy for alphas not to desire to haymaker his Johnson. He simply exudes cool, is entirely unflappable, and can deal with any given situation in the flex of a bicep. Moreover, he uses every solitary muscle in his face to speak his mind, making lengthy dialogues surplus to requirements.
Here he plays a Hollywood stuntman simply known as Driver and the emblem on his jacket speaks volumes for his character. Capable of mesmerizing his opposite number with similar single-mindedness as a scorpion as it prepares to strike, he is comfortable with the fact that regardless of what his opponent’s next move may be, his will be quicker, more focused and far deadlier. therefore the only option is to succumb. A man of few precious words, his actions do all the talking on his behalf, which makes him ideally suited as a getaway driver for heists and the like.
Moonlighting aside, he also holds down a stable nine to five repairing cars for mentor Shannon (Bryan Cranston) and resides in an apartment complex in Echo Park. If it is true that a man’s domain says a lot for their personality, then that is very much the case here. Sparsely decorated and cold in appearance, his home offers no clues whatsoever about Driver and, at the very same time, everything we are required to know. However, despite his very best efforts to remain anonymous, that is all set to change in a heartbeat thanks to a chance meeting with his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) as she lands herself with a spot of car trouble. Granted, he may not be the world’s greatest conversationalist, but he’s also not about to pass by a single mother in dire need of assistance.
Mulligan is a real up-and-comer and no stranger to holding her own in intimidating company as she has already proved by sparring blows with Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen’s Shame. Her role as Irene provides her a somewhat thankless task as two-way dialogue with Driver is at a severe premium, but the results are unanimous as she emotes enough for both parties. Gosling may be practically mute, but the part he plays in their blossoming romance is just as significant as he reveals just enough of a soft center beneath that chilly exterior to ensure that we root for their happy ending. However, the course of true love is never destined to run smoothly, and her soon to be released jail-bird husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) provides just one of the spanners about to be thrown in the works.
To make matters worse, there is the small matter of a particularly mean-spirited loan shark by the name of Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks). Against Driver’s better judgement, he finds himself entangled up in the mobster’s treacherous web courtesy of his unrivaled driving skills. Even more worryingly, Irene is also implicated on account of her involvement with her felon spouse, and Rose is not about to throw her a bone. Brooks is an inspired choice for the role of villain, most notably as he is required to play against type as the rogue of the piece, a career first for the veteran actor. He is remarkably credible as cold-hearted killer with a dash of conscience and it feels like a missed trick that no other filmmaker has utilized him this way previously.
Meanwhile, Gosling has his foot placed firmly over the gas throughout and is ready to shift up at any given moment. He actually hand-picked Refn to convert James Sallis’ original novel to the silver screen and the pair have shared an almost telepathic understanding ever since their primary introduction. I believe bromance is the correct term. The unmistakable synergy between director and lead is evident in every solitary frame and it is no coincidence that they’ve since struck further collaborative gold with the similarly masterful and criminally underrated Only God Forgives. Refn already bears the hallmarks of a legendary filmmaker in the making. Moreover, I believe The Gosling has the potential to become something of a modern-day Brando.
Aside from Gosling’s muted turn, dialogue is used particularly sparingly throughout and only when the narrative requires it in order to proceed. The screenplay from Hossein Amini practices considerable moderation and there are long periods in Drive where barely a solitary word is uttered. Through silence we know all we need to about Driver’s integrity, intentions and loyalties and also feel his perpetual pain and inner turmoil. One prime example of this is a standout scene in an elevator which provides us with one of the most jarring and poignant instances in recent history.
Here Driver states his intentions in no uncertain terms, but does so without the necessity for lengthy monologues. This truly shattering scene resonates for two distinct reasons: firstly because of his vicious burst of alpha aggression in the presence of his fair lady and secondly, and most critically, because of a surprising tenderness he exhibits in the precise same moment. Whilst very much mindful that his sudden outburst will alter their relationship forever and likely call an end to their involvement, he refuses to allow Irene to come to harm and fights her corner without a moment’s contemplation.
There are a number of reasons why Drive deserves to be remembered as a classic. Refn’s flawless direction paired with Thomas Sigel’s stunning cinematography assist in fashioning the very finest in optical candy, dousing the screen with warm orange tones that practically make love to our retinas. All the while, Cliff Martinez romances our ears with a masterful electronic score that harks back to the very best in eighties compositions. Visual and audible stimuli aside, perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay this wonderful film is to mention it in the same breath as Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey. Few films have the ability to suck you into their universe quite so effortlessly and fewer still are able to hold you there until the very last frame.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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