With Drive Nicolas Winding Refn, who made a name for himself with Danish gangster trilogy Pusher and Brit-crime film Bronson, created a film that reignited my excitement for genre film. Many current action or crime films get bogged down with outrageous car chases, violence, and/or badassery; forgetting the importance of strong characters and a captivating narrative to make the action meaningful. Because of this, it took some time to get accustomed to the pace of Drive, a film that languishes in neon, driving, Ryan Gosling, and new italo-disco. The action is sparse, but precise and brutal: gunfights, knife fights, and car chases are brief but expertly crafted for a sense of heightened reality, avoiding the too common pitfall of overcutting action scenes, and provide startlingly violent moments in the cool-calm of Gosling’s world. But, this action is not the centerpiece: it is the story and style of the film that makes Drive a fun, rich, and rewarding film. Refn relies on strong performances from his stellar cast to build a love story John Hughes would be proud of, unfolding Gosling and Carey Mulligan’s relationship with actions and expressions. The film is less an existential driving film as it is a fairy tale: Gosling acts as the hero who must become a monster to protect the innocence of Mulligan. Gosling’s physical transformation is stark and, at times, frightening but Refn’s direction gives the arc smoothness and allows him to remain a mythical hero.
Bottom Line: Well-directed, well-acted, beautifully shot, edited for clarity not chaos… All this allows the polar extremes of violence and love in this movie to interact and merge. What a fuckin’ cool movie.