Rarely can art and violence coexist in film, unless you’re Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese. It’s safe to add Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn to that company with his U.S. debut. His directing and Ryan Gosling’s dynamite performance steer Drive into B-movie territory with grade-A style in one of the best films of the year.
Gosling plays the Driver with no name, a mum loner living in Los Angeles working on movie sets as a stuntman by day and a getaway driver for criminals by night. He gets involved with his neighbor Irene and bonds with her son, giving him purpose and the drive (no pun intended) to become a better person. The Driver attempts to help Irene’s husband repay some thugs to keep her and the boy safe, but the job goes awry and criminals are after his head.
The film has a simple neo-noir premise, but Refn’s stellar directing makes it a beautifully shot action movie layered with existentialism. Drive is a strange concoction of genres, something that rarely works in Hollywood, but the Danish director balances it just enough to keep it just on the rails. The action scenes are excessively violent, but never mindless and done with such great style reminiscent of great films such as Pulp Fiction and Point Blank. The chemistry between Gosling and Carey Mulligan is electric and one of the best I’ve seen onscreen. Refn gives depth and feeling to the Driver and Irene’s bond by showing less and taking away dialogue. Mulligan gives the film a sweet innocence and charm, but Gosling provides a sharp edge with a hint of mystery similar to Clint Eastwood’s character in Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name Trilogy.
It is difficult to put a label on Drive, and it is sure to polarize critics and audiences alike, but the film is an experience rarely seen in Hollywood nowadays. It is not only one of the best films this year, but also of recent memory. Refn is now on the “directors to watch” list, and Gosling is entering Steve McQueen territory with a bad-ass role to go with his suave personality and look. Drive is part action movie, part noir, but it is pure awesomeness that shouldn’t be missed.