By ERIN BROWN
Coldly stylish, “Drive” is an excellent film for those with a stomach for violence. Don’t let the pop synth soundtrack and the stylish pink title fool you; this art-house production pulls no punches.
Ryan Gosling plays the unnamed driver, a man who does Hollywood stunt driving by day and assists in getaways for armed heists by night. The driver forms a close relationship with his attractive neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son Benecio while her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is in jail. The driver seems capable of handling anything until business gets personal. When Standard is forced into carrying out a robbery to pay back money he owes, the driver offers his assistance in an attempt to keep Standard out of jail and the family back together. The heist quickly goes wrong, and the film turns from a touching almost-romance into a chillingly violent search for retribution.
The violence at times is genuinely disturbing. When I went to see the film, one person walked out during a particularly gruesome scene and did not return. The graphicness is hard to watch, but gives the movie a thrillingly visceral quality that keeps everyone in the audience on the edge of their seats gripping their armrests from the time the pawn shop heist begins until the credits start to roll.
“Drive” both disturbs with its violence but also wins hearts through the interactions between the driver, Irene and Benecio. The driver shows a tender side in his scenes with these two. He spends time with Benecio, playing games with him and affectionately tucking him in at night. His limited and sometimes awkward dialogue with Irene is endearing, and their relationship feels deeply genuine. The film makes it clear that the driver’s violence in the latter half of the film is driven by his love for Irene and Benecio. His desire to protect them from the bloody machinations behind the heist gone wrong stems from his affection for them.
Director Nicolas Refn’s casting proves commendable in “Drive.” Gosling and Mulligan certainly have chemistry, and Mulligan’s touching portrayal of Irene as a vulnerable young mother demonstrates her talent in her own right. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman also perform compellingly in their roles as criminals – they’re cold-blooded and terrifying. Gosling rules the film. His performance as the driver is unaffected and he seems completely immersed in his role. He somehow manages to give the driver uncommon depth, creating a character that is distant yet obviously compassionate, capable but human and attractive at all times – he’s basically coolness incarnate with his toothpick in his mouth, wearing his signature leather driving gloves and scorpion emblazoned jacket.
The film itself is undeniably chic, especially the camera shots of the city skyscrapers and lights at night. The stunts in the film are refreshingly minimal for a thriller centered on a driver and they are believable. Overall, the film is truly excellent. I find that I love “Drive” in much the same way I have always loved Francis Coppola’s “The Godfather” and Martin Scorcese’s “Goodfellas.” This film has the potential to become a true classic.