Drive is, without a doubt, one of the coolest and most stylish movies I have ever seen. Destined to become a modern cult classic, this very engrossing film can be described as an art-house character study masquerading as a different kind of drama/thriller, with elements of film noir and a fairytale as icing on the cake.
The pulse-pounding action scenes, including—of course—the deliciously thrilling opening sequence, are expertly mounted. Moments of sudden brutal, bloody violence jolt the viewer. A highlight of the film, the elevator scene is a minor masterpiece in itself. Judicious use of slow motion in some instances adds both flourish and poignancy to the scenes in question. I couldn’t help but smile to myself with pleasure at the end of the scene that comes immediately after the protagonist’s final encounter with the primary villain of the movie; that scene is brilliantly conceived in its simplicity and triumphantly satisfying.
Perhaps most impressively of all, Drive is one of those rare movies that prove that style can actually be substance. Even if one doesn”t believe that to be true, there is plenty of substance to be found in the film, if one looks beyond the obvious. Glances, facial expressions, and body language are central to the movie and convey unspoken emotions.
And then there’s the atmosphere. The atmosphere! It is dreamy and mesmerizing, and the film soars on it.
Sure, the movie employs a number of clichés, but that is kind of the point. Drive serves as evidence that a deft filmmaker can use clichés and the viewer’s expectations to their advantage and make the clichés feel original by suddenly deviating from the expected.
With masterful skill, precision, and confidence, director Nicolas Winding Refn, working from Hossein Amini’s screenplay (based on James Sallis’s novel of the same name), has put together a remarkable, absorbing, uncompromising motion picture that turns out to be a prime example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. Newton Thomas Sigel’s slick, energetic, and seductive cinematography brings the movie to visual perfection. The top-notch editing by Mat Newman ensures that the narrative flows smoothly at all times. A defining feature of Drive, the superb soundtrack contains memorable and moody music—most notably Nightcall by Kavinsky featuring Lovefoxxx, Under Your Spell by Desire, and the outstanding A Real Hero by College featuring Electric Youth, not to mention Cliff Martinez’s wonderfully atmospheric score—that plays a significant role in the storytelling.
Ryan Gosling’s superlative turn as the enigmatic, unnamed driver—low-key most of the time, but capable of explosive bursts of intense ferocity—places him firmly in the upper echelon of actors working today. Carey Mulligan delivers an emotionally honest, sympathetic performance in the role of Irene. Ron Perlman and especially Albert Brooks manage to make their characters (Nino and Bernie Rose, respectively) come across as two men with whom one would definitely not want to mess around; however, even the antagonists’ actions are understandable within the context of the film in a way that transcends the simple good–bad dichotomy.