As the hot pink lettering on the black screen fade away, and an electronic beat starts playing, we hear the voice of a man, a nameless man, who is talking about the streets of a city. The first image that comes on the screen is of a marked map, and then we see this man, his scorpion jacket and everything, talking on his phone, telling the person on the other end of the line about his conditions and rules. Soon we find out that this nameless driver is the getaway driver for two robbers and what then ensues is one of the most riveting opening sequences that I have ever seen, definitely the best one since last year's The Social Network. But while TSN's opening sequence showcases the clever dialogue that will become the essence of the film, Drive's opening sequence shows the mystery and the efficiency of the Driver, the fast-paced action and an excellent car chase, the almost addictive pop score, and of course, the total unexpectedness of 'what will happen next' that will continue throughout the film. And this really is just the beginning.
It is because of this unexpected nature of the film that I will just mention the obvious plotline that one is able to devise from its trailer. There is a man, who I'm sure everyone knows by now, doesn't have a name and is simply called the Driver in the film's IMDb page. He drives stunt cars in Hollywood films by day, and is a getaway driver at night. He meets a woman named Irene and her kid, and his very exciting yet lonely life changes, for what seems, the better. That is until her husband returns from prison and is in some kind of trouble. The Driver decides to help him, but then all hell breaks loose. It is then that the Driver has to takes things into his own hands to protect the only people he has seemingly ever cared about in his life.
God I make that sound so clichéd, and you know even if the basic idea seems all too familiar, the film really is not. Atleast not to me. I have read innumerable reviews in which comparisons have been drawn to 70s action flicks, and that it is an "arthouse Transporter" and that's probably right because people have seen much more cinema than I have, obviously. I am not at all familiar with 70s action films and I have not seen any of the Transporter films because of reasons unknown to all of us. Personally speaking, I found elements of Taxi Driver, American Psycho and A Clockwork Orange in the film, but the latter two were just singular scenes. I sort of liked my ignorance in this case, having had two amazing cinematic experiences, and this film has just left me wanting so much more.
For one thing, I am going to watch all of Nicolas Winding Refn's films soon. He has made one stylish film here, for which he won a well deserved Best Director award at this year's Cannes. I am a huge fan of specific shots that make me go "And this is why I love films", and they were there in Drive aplenty. The lighting especially defined some of the best shots in the film. For starters there was L.A. as the back drop, and it is the city of lights and the perfect place to film those amazing car chases. Then the kiss, which was dazzling and beautiful. Towards the end there was a scene with a lighthouse, and it has stuck to my brain like superglue, I was that impressed with it. But those are just some scenes. Contrasting with these bright gritty scenes, there were scenes between the Driver and Irene, like when he takes her and her kid for a drive, that were soft and intimate and just real. I liked the emotional sweet parts as much as the gory visceral ones. Refn struck a great balance in this film in this way. While the first-half was slow, but darling, the second-half was one intense, brutal ride. The screenwriter Hossein Amini should get equal points for this; he really has written a thrilling film that isn't just some action flick with computer effects galore, but rather a somewhat emotional film with quite a violent streak in it.
Speaking of emotional things with violent streaks, can Ryan Gosling as the Driver be more bang on? And fantastic? It is one of the most restrained performances that I have ever seen. He only speaks when completely necessary, he drives with utmost focus, he smiles occasionally, and though they are not big smiles, they seem ginormous because of the rarity of such smiles. And all this is important, because once he breaks this reserve of his, he is a very dangerous man who can bash your brains out, quite literally. I think this might have become my favourite performance by Gosling ever. Gosling, who has the ability to give really intense performances but more on an emotional level, is almost stoic here. The Driver seems to have no feelings or thoughts or cares, but once Irene and her kid enters his life, we immediately understand how devastatingly lonely he is. I am going to put in another superbly clichéd line here so you have been warned, but he tries to save them so much because they had saved him. He was a nameless man with a pointless existence, no matter how cool, but they give him a reason to live and fight for something. Sure his methods are a bit out of hand (if there ever was an understatement...), but his motives are in place, and because of all this, Driver has now joined the very prestigious list of my favourite anti-heroes.
It is true that this was Gosling's film through and through, but the whole ride would have been slightly boring, inspite of the awesome music playing (more on that later), if he wasn't backed by some stellar supporting performances. The two I really loved are of Carey Mulligan's, who plays Irene, and Albert Brooks's, who plays Bernie Ross. It is true that Mulligan can do sad roles well, my favourite one was in Never Let Me Go, but I really did not expect Irene from her. What I mean is that the whole image of a lonely, American single-mother with her husband in prison is not what one necessarily thinks of when they think of Mulligan, but she pulled it off. She is sweet and adorable in the film, and no wonder the Driver would want to go to any lengths to protect her. Her chemistry with Gosling was incredible. During their, for lack of a better word, courtship period, the simple smiles and long glances that they gave to each other was more sincere than most over-the-top romantic crap we see nowadays. The second time when I had gone to watch this film, it was with two female friends of mine and one of them kept trying to think of expected lines and things that we are so used to in such scenes. But none of that happened, which is good. It made me think of something Uma Thurman said as Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction, "Why do we feel it's necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable? ...That's when you know you've found somebody special. When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence." If anything can define the Driver's and Irene's relationship, it's that quote. And that kiss...*swoon* Apparently Gosling put it in there because he really wanted to kiss Mulligan. Good call sir (Lucky Bitch!).
Albert Brooks, on the other hand, is the furthest thing from sweet and adorable you can find. Of course if you think that being a two-faced, murderously efficient or efficiently murderous mobster is sweet and adorable, he is exactly that. When we first meet him, he seems okay...I mean as far as mobster go, talking about his fortune cookies and all. But the second he meets the Driver and admits to his hands being dirty, you know this guy is bad news. He tries to be friendly with everyone- the Driver, Shannon, who is played by Bryan Cranston, Nino, played by Ron Perlman, but something evil and disturbing lurks underneath his skin. While I only had Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver to compare the Driver with, and that also not so much because the former now looks like a Parliamentarian orator compared to the latter, I could see clearly the kind of mobster Bernie Ross was. He had the whole gruff talking and frighteningly vicious criminal thing down. And that is amazing, seeing that Brooks is famous for being a comedic actor.
Among the others, Cranston was good as an almost-fatherly figure to the Driver, who has a lot of bad luck. Now most people would compare this performance of his to his character in Breaking Bad, but I know him as Malcolm's dad, so you can see how remarkable it was to me. I especially liked the final part of when his character is shown. Perlman, a.k.a. Hellboy, was the slobbery, angry mobster Nino who contrasted with the perfectionist, cool and collected Bernie. Oscar Isaac played Standard, Irene's ex-convict husband. He could have been deadly generic, but he was very good too as an emotional family man who is trying to do the right thing. Christina Hendricks of Mad Men was in this as well. She had a really minor role, albeit a pivotal one, but honestly I couldn't care less about her. Last, but not the least, Irene's son Benicio was played by Kaden Leos, who was so cute and his scenes with Gosling were lovely and touching.
I have two more points to make about this film, but I'll take help of another review. This is what NME magazine had to say about Drive:
'Drive is the epitome of cool. It isn't just as cool as fuck. It's cooler. That's right: “Drive Is Cooler Than Fuck”.'I agree whole-heartedly. Three reasons: the first is everything I have written above- you know the whole mysterious scary driver, and stunning shots, and stylish directing, and splendid acting. The second would be the music. I personally am not a big fan of electronic, synth-pop tunes that were prevalent throughout the film. Having said that, I must say that I am now a big fan of those tunes because of the way they were put in the film. Gosling has talked about how he chose Refn to direct this film because Refn had wanted to make a film about a guy who drives around at nights listening to pop music. So you see the music is as an integral part of the story as the friggin' Driver himself, somewhat. The four songs that come in the film- 'Nightcall', 'Under Your Spell', 'Oh My Love' and 'A Real Hero' were perfectly placed according to the mood and feel of the film, especially 'Under Your Spell' which plays when Standard returns and it is playing in his welcoming party and it just means so much to the Driver and Irene. Ahmazing! The final reason why Drive is so fucking cool is because of the iconic status that it is going to inevitably reach. The Driver, with his duo-coloured scorpion jacket and leather gloves and toothpick-biting and the song 'A Real Hero' describing him...it's all going to become huge. I can see it. It has been a while that a film has really gotten a cult status, the last film worthy of it was Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, in my opinion, though that had Michael Cera and this has Ryan Gosling. I know I shouldn't care about how cool a film is and just think about all its goodness, but meh. I want to be the person who was there when it all happened. Drive might be for me what Pulp Fiction was to the people who were old enough to get it in the 90s. And that seriously is wayyyy cooler than fuck.
I guess that's all folks. I loved this film to bits, my second favourite this year, that too only by a margin. It is awesome and gritty and smooth and just a hell of a ride. Oscar-wise, I'd love to see Refn, Gosling and Brooks get recognised but this film is a bit non-Oscar-baity. And I don't even care about that because um, was The King's Speech cooler than fuck? I didn't think so. So anyways, GO SEE IT!!