Review: Drive


Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by:Hossein Amini
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks
Released: October 27, 2011
Grade: A-

One of the highlights of my Toronto Film Festival experience was a “Super Saturday” of amazing films.  I caught The Hunter, The Ides Of March, Moneyball and The Descendants before it culminated with a 9pm screening of Drive is a cinema filled with more than 1,000 people.  Oh, and stars Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston were in attendance.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.

A strong buzz has surrounded this film since director Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising) picked up the best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival back in May.  You’ll realise why as soon as the unusual opening credits start to roll and the pulsating soundtrack thrusts itself through the cinema speakers.  This film is cool!

The story, which often feels secondary to the film’s distinctive style, revolves around a guy who works as a stunt driver in Hollywood movies by day and a “get away” driver in armed robberies by night.  We never get to know his real name – he is known simply as the “Driver”.

He lives alone and mostly keeps to himself but those lucky enough to meet the Driver will see a guy who is classy, confident and composed.  Ryan Gosling (The Notebook, Blue Valentine) does a fantastic job bringing this character to life.  Almost every member of the audience, both male and female, will be ensnared by his charm and sex appeal.  Further, toothpick sales should soon be on the rise (you’ll see why once you’ve seen the movie).

The Driver seems content with his solitary existence but that changes when he befriends a woman named Irene (Mulligan) and her young son who live in his apartment building.  With her husband serving time in prison, Irene is in need of companionship and her son is in need of a father figure.  The Driver ticks both of those boxes.  We finally get to see his softer side and the three enjoy spending time together.

At the Q&A following the screening at the Toronto Film Festival, Refn said the idea was to make a film where “half the movie is a John Hughes movie (Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and then the guy goes psychotic and kills everybody.”  That’s not quite how it comes off on screen but this is the part where Drive changes gears and puts its foot on the accelerator.

Irene’s husband (Isaac) is released from prison and he turns out to be a pretty decent guy.  Unfortunately, he owes money to some powerful gangsters for “protection” whilst behind bars.  The Driver agrees to help him pull off “one last job” so he can get the cash and keep his family safe.  However, it sets off a chain of events that will see the Driver’s world spiral out of control.

Squeamish viewers should brace themselves for the film’s second half.  The packed audience at my screening didn’t know quite how to react.  Some were laughing with shock.  Others were looking down at the floor with their hands over their ears.  Refn and writer Hossein Amini (The Wings Of The Dove) deserve praise for the audacious way in which they’ve mixed genres.  It’s a wild ride.

It’s no surprise that Drive has already developed a cult-like status before reaching Australia.  The movie currently sits inside the IMDB’s top 250 of all time as judged by the public.  I can’t fault the film’s style (particularly the 1980s themed score) but it does fall slightly short when it comes to story and dialogue.  It’s the only reason it can’t be compared to the best works of director Quentin Tarantino (such as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs).

If you can make it through one viewing, I dare say Drive is a film you’re going to want to watch again and again.

Drive Q&A at TIFF 2011
The Drive Q&A at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival with director Nicolas Winding Refn
and stars Ryan Gosling, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks.