Year: 2011
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers: Hossein Amini (screenplay), James Sallis (novel)
Region of Origin: U.S.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
35mm, Color, 100 mins

Synopsis: A Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong. (Source)

As soon as those first few pulsing beats from the Chromatics’ “Tick of the Clocks” dropped in, I knew I was in for something special. White-hot in its energy and style, Drive is as electric a movie as you’re sure to see all year. It has the keen ability to blend a distinctly Los Angelian grittiness with flair for style, noir and hyperviolence in a mesmerizing way, an action flick that stomps out of the mainstream and into another niche altogether.

Masterfully crafted, Drive is about as artistic as action movies can get. From each meticulously filmed shot to the next, each frame just oozes a vividness and vibrancy that were you unfamiliar with Refn’s previous work you really wouldn’t expect from this “heist” movie. Put simply, this film is gorgeous to watch, blood-splattered faces and all. From the hot pink typography to the hypnotic electronic score and high-octane car chases, Drive is an intoxicating experience that equally excites and disturbs under a relentlessly mounting tension. None to surprising either is its distinctive portrayal of the genre. Refn discards a lot of the typical qualities one would expect from this kind of movie, jettisoning bombastic lines, delivery and over-the-top situations and heroes for a much more thoughtful presentation. The pacing eschews kinetic volume for a more patient burn, which really enhances the scenes that get your adrenaline going.

That begs the question, is there substance beneath Drive’s obvious aesthetic sublimity? Is there depth for its cinematic and directorial achievements to stand upon? I say yes. Though familiar, Drive implements a lot of compelling noir tropes in its plot and characters. A flawed hero trapped in an unwanted situation, rampant crime, greed and other moral and tonal elements abound, with the moral ambiguity really ratcheting up as Ryan Gosling’s Driver is sucked deeper and deeper into the darker parts of himself. The Driver comes across as a nameless, silent, near mythic force of nature wielding inexplicable talents and fortune. Sauntering into otherwise nondescript company, he sets off a chain of events that will forever change their lives and put him in several moral quandaries where he’s forced to choose how far he’ll go for what is right. Gosling’s Driver is a relatively redemptive symbol of poise and purity, though that’s not to say that the moral shift results in a more optimistic reality. Consistent with some of the traditionally bleaker aspects of noir, the consequences are messy, but there is merit to be found in the Driver’s obsession with justice. Some may see these things as hollow, but for fans of these kinds of narratives, Drive hits the mark.

Speaking of Gosling, the actor continues his recent string of stellar performances. His stoic, mysterious portrayal really carries the film, embodying its overall sense of enigmatic attraction. Combined with the ever-talented Carey Mulligan, the two create a convincing emotional core through mostly nonverbal interactions, which is a feat in itself. To create a persuasive romance via dialogue is one thing, but to do so with hardly any meaningful lines in its buildup is a testament to the two actors’ capability for nuance. Credit also goes to Refn for capturing each look and mannerism in a way that fills the verbal void. It’s often the silence and lingering frames that seem to say so much of what the characters do not.

Some are calling it retro, some arthouse action, but what’s undeniable is Drive is flat out cool. Not in a pretentious way, but with an authentic edge. It’s possible that Drive’s ability to strip the action genre of most of its more generic Hollywood traits and substitute them with an artful eye may turn some off. I’m not one of them. Refn deserves his due recognition, one, for crafting one of the best films of the year so far, and two, for providing another increasingly rare example of reinvigorating something tired with new life. This movie needs to be seen, if not for the reasons I’ve discussed then because it is different and that is exciting!

Crome Rating: 4.5/5

RP