By John Matthews | September 20, 2021
This week marks the ten-year anniversary since Ryan Gosling drifted onto the big screen in the high-intensity thriller “Drive” (2011). Director Nicolas Winding Refn, best known for his low-budget foreign crime drama series “Pusher,” takes his first real crack at a commercially anticipated movie in “Drive.” This remains his highest-grossing film to date at $35.1M.
It appears as though the more time has passed, the more revered the movie has become. The art house tune coming from a blockbuster release with big-name actors does not happen often. The movie has deeply enriched layers, whether you are into intense action with high stakes chase scenes or a character driven neo-noir drama that gets you deeply invested.
The movie follows Gosling’s character, “The Driver,” an extremely skilled stunt driver who doubles as a getaway driver for criminals in his spare time. He comes across as cold and calculated until love interest, Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her son, Benicio (Kaden Leos), come into his life. He begins to warm up to the idea of life beyond work until Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), gets out of prison. Wrapped up in a gang and needing a hefty sum to get out for good, Standard enlists The Driver for one last score to help him get out and keep his family safe. The film first introduces Gosling’s character in the heart of the action, giving us the perfect encapsulation of who he is. We see his character in his element and where he is most comfortable from the beginning. This introduces and familiarizes the audience with the protagonist out of the gate.
The Driver, or as Bryan Cranston’s character (Shannon) so warmly refers to him as “The Kid,” is extremely methodical and meticulous. The Driver only speaks when spoken to or when it is of utmost importance. This often creates pauses in the dialogue that builds dramatic tension. Like The Driver, the movie carries a dark, eerie tone which allows the plot to remain in control of the pacing.
While “Drive” seamlessly switches from a high-stakes action scene to ones that are more plot-driven, it does so in a way that feels very natural and not at all forced. The movie doesn’t try too hard to overcompensate the dry, starchy, more dialogue-filled moments with over-the-top action. This movie could easily have gone in the Fast and Furious direction, but it really values its integrity, and I respect that.
One complaint many have with the movie is that the action sequences are too few and far between. This film could have easily played it safe and been another mindless action movie, but with Refn’s art house background, there was no way that could happen. Most casual moviegoers found this rather boring.
This movie plays on the common tropes of a fairytale ending. It follows the blueprint for a classic hero story. Our hero, deep in his own dark world with no intent to change, suddenly meets a love interest and her son. This is the first time we start to notice the protagonist yearning for something more. It adds a new element of hope and reason changing and a clear light at the end of the tunnel, only to flip and subvert our expectations. Just when there seems to be a way out, the world around him begins to collapse, and so do his chances of a normal life. As The Driver spirals into chaos, he does so in a way that makes him a true hero that very boldly draws parallels to the iconic “Taxi Driver” (1976).
“Drive” is also deeply enriched in the noir genre and continues many of the traditions of its predecessors. Not only are there moments where this film goes completely black and white, it has a cynical hero, an inversion of traditional values, and an underlying tone of existential nihilism. This holds true to the noir genre, as it has become known for its darker undertones and themes.
So many subtle visual and aural symbols are woven within the movie so perfectly that they often go unnoticed. The main antagonists Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman) are two of the more captivating performances in the movie. The two are grounded, human, and each menacing, evil act they make genuinely affects them.
The movie’s soundtrack is often described as a “retro-futuristic” ensemble of tracks that beautifully add another layer of storytelling to a movie that is already packed with themes. Each track is meticulously placed to help enhance the scenes and evoke the perfect emotion. Tracks like “Nightcall” and “Under Your Spell” had a newfound success due to TikTok with the release of “Drive” on Netflix in 2020. The “theme song” of the movie “A Real Hero” plays at the most pivotal point in the movie. The Driver takes Irene and Benicio for a cruise around Los Angeles, and the lyrics of the emotional ballad sync perfectly with the changes we can see in The Driver. He becomes the hero of the movie and finally finds his reason for living. “Drive” very boldly blends more industrial, futuristic sounds with more dreary love ballads in a euphoric way to create and uphold the very essence of the movie.
While most average moviegoers would not find this engaging as there is not a staggering amount of action, I truly feel this is one of the best-directed movies I've seen in quite a long time. For anyone who considers themself a movie buff and hasn’t seen this movie, I recommend you check it out.
Drive is currently streaming on Peacock for free.