Drive is a throwback to every mid-to-late '80s character-based action film like William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. or Michael Mann's Thief. It makes the city of Los Angeles just as much of a character as anyone while exploring the hidden nooks and crannies of a city that never gets shot like this anymore. Director Nicolas Winding Refn shoots L.A. like it's a crumbling empire, still at the height of its power, yet rotting underneath its façade. Anyone who is interested in the language of film should study Drive as well as the earlier works of Refn like his Pusher trilogy, Bronson and Valhalla Rising. This guy is our next Kubrick, Cronenberg and Peckinpah rolled into a hyper stylized ball of genius.
This is all neon lights and pastel colors whizzing past with Ryan Gosling as the tour guide. If you're looking for the Gosling from The Notebook or Crazy, Stupid, Love, then I recommend you look elsewhere because this is Gosling at his darkest and most enigmatic. He's just known as Driver, a man defined by actions. He's a stunt driver for the movies, but also moonlights as a getaway driver for anyone who meets his demands. He doesn't drive for the money, either, he does it because he's only himself when he's behind the wheel of a car, playing his own version of Steve McQueen. The only bit of flair he allows himself is a white satin jacket with a scorpion embroidered on the back that says more about him than any line of dialogue ever could. It acts as his cape, but also as his security blanket, protecting him from anyone who might try to breach his almost impenetrable exterior. Which is exactly what happens when he meets his neighbor, Irene (played by the bio-luminescent Carey Mulligan).
Irene is Driver's neighbor who is raising her son by herself while her husband is in jail. When Driver first meets her, it's also the first time he smiles or says more than two words, and his easy rapport with her son shows us that maybe he can be more than just Driver and maybe he wants to be. He could also be Lover or Father or Partner, he could have a connection with another human without getting hurt.
I won't give away any more than I already have other than to say that this is a modern masterpiece. The level of performances by Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks, Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston is unmatched so far this year and it's easily the most well-directed film we've seen in a long while. If you go in expecting Fast and the Furious, you will be disappointed. This is an art film disguised as an action flick. It moves at its own pace and allows you to keep up, but never looks back to see if you're still following.
Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks and Oscar Isaac. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Rated R