×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Drive

"Drive" takes the tired heist-gone-bad genre out for a spin, delivering fresh guilty-pleasure thrills in the process.

With:
Driver - Ryan Gosling
Irene - Carey Mulligan
Shannon - Bryan Cranston
Bernie Rose - Albert Brooks
Standard - Oscar Isaac
Nino - Ron Perlman
Blanche - Christina Hendricks
Benicio - Kaden Leos

The villain in “Drive” admits he used to produce movies — sexy ’80s action pics, to be exact. “One critic called them ‘European,'” the sleazeball brags. Now he’s starring in one: a sleek, retro-styled B-movie that benefits immensely from the aloof, virtually nihilistic edge Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (“Bronson”) brings to the party. Starring Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stuntman/getaway driver, “Drive” takes the tired heist-gone-bad genre out for a spin, delivering fresh guilty-pleasure thrills in the process. Serious-actor cast, plus pic’s selection in competition at Cannes, should lend prestige to the Sept. 16 domestic release.

After serving up a pair of intense, emotionally draining perfs in “Blue Valentine” and “All Good Things,” Gosling swings to the other extreme with “Drive,” channeling Alain Delon’s cipher-like hitman from “Le Samourai” — a cool-as-ice model that conveniently allows screenwriters to forgo the requisite backstory when creating compassionate-criminal types. The key to such one-dimensional characters is that they live by a rigorous code of conduct, and Gosling’s unnamed Driver is no exception.

By sticking to his own set of rules, Driver excels at his job, which amounts to evading cops by night, only to play one the following day on set. Gosling is chillingly stoic in either context, hardly breaking a sweat in the film’s buckle-up beginning scene. In fact, thesp betrays no emotion until the third time his character encounters pretty next-door neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, Benicio (Kaden Leos). Only then does Driver crack a smile, offering the pair a high-speed tour along the Los Angeles River’s cement culverts.

Romantic as their outing proves, Irene isn’t exactly single. Benicio’s dad, Standard (Oscar Isaac), comes home from jail a week later, enlisting Driver in a ploy that involves stealing a million dollars for mostly honorable reasons. Things go bad, blood and brains are splattered about with sickening glee, and Driver finds his chivalrous intentions put to the test as those behind the botched heist threaten to harm Irene and Benicio, whose protection evidently matters enough to Driver that he’s willing to risk his life.

Adapted by Hossein Amini (best known for “The Wings of the Dove” and other highbrow literary fare) from James Sallis’ Los Angeles-set novel, “Drive” doesn’t quite know how to handle the character vacuum at its core, but compensates by surrounding its protag with a colorful supporting ensemble. There’s Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) as the surrogate father who supplies Driver his wheels; Ron Perlman as a ruthless big shot running schemes from his strip-mall pizza joint; and Albert Brooks, cast deliciously against type, as the aforementioned producer-turned-crime-boss. On the female front, vampy “Mad Men” redhead Christina Hendricks makes an all-too-brief appearance, while Mulligan, though undeniably sweet, seems too wholesome for what would typically be the pic’s femme-fatale role.

Like Quentin Tarantino, Refn is an exploitation-movie junkie, so his cinematic references mirror ’70s and ’80s cult faves like “To Live and Die in L.A.” more than the spare, unforgiving noir novels and films Sallis had in mind. Such questionable influences can be felt from the neon-bright opening credits to Refn’s retro music choices — a mix of tension-ratcheting synthesizer tones and catchy club anthems — that collectively give the film its consistent tone.

Whereas most muscle-car action pics are visually and narratively flat, however, “Drive” displays stunning style. With its spare storytelling economy, this is the sort of film that would launch a career, if only it were Refn’s debut, rather than his eighth feature. Still, it does mark Refn’s first for-hire Hollywood production, giving him the chance to work with the likes of Steven Soderbergh’s go-to composer, Cliff Martinez, and Bryan Singer’s trusted d.p., Newton Thomas Sigel, whose high-contrast widescreen framing puts a harsh new edge on east L.A. locations.

Among a host of impressive setpieces, the most remarkable is a white-knuckle car chase that once again reminds how scarce fancy driving has gotten onscreen, deservedly earning a round of enthusiastic applause from the Cannes crowd. (Though dozens of drivers are credited, Gosling did a number of his own stunts.)

Still, it’s surprising that a film called “Drive” doesn’t feature more driving. Amini’s script barely explores Driver’s status as a stuntman, offering only a thin connection between his high-stakes day job and equally dangerous private life (in the form of a prosthetic mask he dons in the film’s brutal score-settling finale). What the character lacks in psychology, he compensates for through action and iconic costuming. Come Halloween, don’t be surprised to see fans dressed as Driver, wearing a white satin racing jacket with a giant gold scorpion on the back. “Drive” is fetishistic like that, reveling in such details as the growl of a GTO engine or the creak of Gosling’s gloves, and should go a long way to boost the profiles of both its director and star.

Drive

Production: A FilmDistrict release presented in association with Bold Films and OddLot Entertainment of a Marc Platt/Motel Movies production. (International sales: Sierra/Affinity, Beverly Hills.) Produced by Marc E. Platt, Adam Siegel, Gigi Pritzker, Michael Litvak, John Palermo. Executive producers, David Lancaster, Gary Michael Walters, William Lischak, Linda McDonough, Jeffrey Stott. Co-producers, Garrick Dion, Jonathan Oakes, James Smith, Frank Capra III. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Screenplay, Hossein Amini, based on the book by James Sallis.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen); editor, Matthew Newman; music, Cliff Martinez; music supervisors, Brian McNelis, Eric Craig; production designer, Beth Mickle; art director, Christopher Tandon; set decorator, Lisa Sessions Morgan; costume designer, Erin Benach; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Robert Eber; sound designers, Lou Bender, Victor Ray Ennis; re-recording mixers, Robert Fernandez, Dave Patterson; stunt coordinator, Darrin M. Prescott; special effects coordinator, Jimmy Lorimer; associate producer, Joe Fineman; assistant director, Frank Capra III; casting, Mindy Marin. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 19, 2011. Running time: 100 MIN.

With: Driver - Ryan Gosling
Irene - Carey Mulligan
Shannon - Bryan Cranston
Bernie Rose - Albert Brooks
Standard - Oscar Isaac
Nino - Ron Perlman
Blanche - Christina Hendricks
Benicio - Kaden Leos

More Film

  • Of Fathers and Sons

    Visa Holdup May Keep German Oscar Nominee From Attending Ceremony

    A German producer’s hopes to attend Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, where his film is up for an Oscar, look likely to be dashed by tightened U.S. Department of Homeland Security restrictions and increased bureaucracy.  Hans Robert Eisenhauer is one of the producers of “Of Fathers and Sons,” director Talal Derki’s film about a radical Islamist [...]

  • Speaker of the United States House

    Nancy Pelosi, Ava DuVernay Honored at VH1 Trailblazers Event

    Cher is feeling a little better about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. “When I see Trump spew his hate and tell his gazillion lies, I get pissed off and feel uneasy at the same time,” the Oscar winner and frequent Trump critic said on Wednesday while introducing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at “VH1 [...]

  • Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy

    The Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy History

    No Academy Awards is complete without some emotional acceptance speeches on stage – and some political ones to boot. With just 90 seconds to make an impact, many actors have used the platform as a voice for political change, calling attention to hot-button issues like climate change and gender equality, while others have simply reveled [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett Arrested, in Custody of Chicago Police

    Jussie Smollett has been arrested and faces criminal charges for allegedly filing a false police report and for disorderly conduct. Chicago police tweeted Thursday morning that the “Empire” actor was under arrest and in custody of detectives. Smollett claimed that he had been attacked by two men on Jan. 29 — he said they beat [...]

  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959, born Eleanora Fagan)

    Billie Holiday Documentary Draws Buyers as Concord Boards Project

    Concord, the successor to the Billie Holiday Estate, has boarded James Erskine’s documentary “Billie,” which tracks the iconic jazz singer’s life. Altitude Film Sales has sold the project to several territories. Also joining the project, now in post-production, is the Brazilian colorization artist Marina Amaral. Most of the filmed and still images that exist of [...]

  • My Extraordinary Summer With Tess review

    Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess'

    Winner of a special mention from the Berlinale Generation KPlus’ adult jury, the family-friendly, light drama “My Extraordinary Summer With Tess” is straightforward youth cinema with surprising emotional depth. Based on a prize-winning novel by Anna Woltz, a beloved Dutch writer of work for young readers, it explores family relationships and emphasizes the importance of [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content