I don’t want to review this movie. I don’t want to tell you that Nicolas Winding Refn is a great director who’s made an amazingly taut thriller that grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go. I don’t want to tell you that Ryan Gosling delivers a uniquely unnerving performance. I just want to tell you to go see Drive, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
And Drive is chock full o’ surprises. Even if you feel like the trailer gives everything away, there’s an underlying unease to the film that is inescapable. Ryan Gosling plays the driver with no name, working as a Hollywood stunt driver by day and getaway driver by night, who discovers that he and everyone close to him have been marked for death after a heist gone wrong.
They don’t make movies like this anymore. Academy Award-winning screenwriter Hossein Amini (Wings of the Dove) has done his homework and knows exactly what he’s doing. Together, he and Refn craft a worthy throwback to the crime thrillers of the 70’s and early 80’s, specifically Michael Mann’s Thief. The two films feel like kissing cousins. Sleek, smart, and action-packed.
Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel’s (The Usual Suspects, Three Kings, X-Men) visuals are the icing on the cake, adding to the sleek, sexy elements as well as the more ominous undertones. Drive is punctuated with several shocking bursts of violence that are truly terrifying. The elevator scene is a prime example of the sublime flow Refn brings to the film, taking us from tender to intense in an instant. The transitions, disturbing though they may be, are seamless. And Refn blindsides you with these moments.
Of course, Gosling’s stolid performance as the driver is part of what enables Refn to get you when your guard is down. Gosling plays it subtle and the character is so reserved, so meticulous–the driver is a man always in control–when he erupts it’s out of the blue, like a bolt of lightning on a clear day, leaving the air electrified in his wake. As subdued as the performance is, Gosling commands your attention. Just try to look away when he takes a hammer to confront a low-level thug. You might want to, but your eyes will be glued to the screen.
Then there’s Albert Brooks, playing a most unexpected villain and injecting a perverse sense of levity into the truly abhorrent things he does. I love his humor, and it’s peppered throughout his performance, but here it’s such dark gallows humor that you feel guilty laughing. It’s an amazing performance. Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, and Christina Hendricks are all great, but Gosling and Brooks own this movie.
Drive is a tense, terse neo-noir thriller that will take your breath away. The action hits hard and fast, bolstered by a surprising amount of pathos from all sides, thanks to the rich characters created by the great cast. With this almost operatic action thriller, equal parts art and action, it appears director Nicolas Winding Refn has hit his stride. I look forward to his next collaboration with Ryan Gosling.