Nicholas Winding Refn ought to be known to any serious cineaste for his barking mad, but quite brilliant, biopic of Charles Bronson, the eponymous Bronson. A strange, heady combination of Kubrickian poise and coldness with a subversive strain of very British humour, it attracted some disbelievingly bad reviews, but has now been acclaimed as something of a minor classic, kickstarting Tom Hardy’s impressive career in the process. Now, his new film Drive comes heralded with all manner of superlatives, not least the prestigious Best Director award at Cannes. Can (sic) it live up to the hype?

Thankfully, the answer is yes. Winding Refn, screenwriter Hossein Amini and an excellent cast all manage to turn what might have been a disposable B-movie into something weirder and more affecting, creating a netherworld where slightly bruised romanticism and extreme violence co-exist unhappily. The unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling) moonlights as both a film stunt driver and a getaway man, giving his passengers exactly five minutes of his time and considerable expertise. A solitary man, with only his manager/cohort Shannon (Bryan Cranston) to offer him friendship, he unexpectedly warms to his neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, which sees him getting mixed up with her ex-jailbird husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) and some very, very bad men (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). Of course, things go awry.

Drive’s 18 certificate was awarded for ‘strong gory violence’, and this isn’t an exaggeration. The sheer level of carnage onscreen is impressively horrific, putting most splatter films to shame. An already legendary scene in a lift features the most violently staged bit of violence to a skull since Irreversible. What’s surprising is that it’s a very long time until the action really kicks in, with Winding Refn apparently content just to observe the still, quiet relationship between Irene and Driver. He’s helped by the excellence of the performances from Mulligan and Gosling, the former impressively vulnerable and delicate, the latter quite perfect in probably his best appearance to date. They’re helped by a superb supporting cast, where everyone has their moment to shine, even if they die horribly shortly afterwards. The stand-out, as is being widely reported, is comedian Albert Brooks’ chilling appearance as mobster Bernie, an apparently reasonable and sane man who is prone to horrendous outbreaks of nastiness when he is called to.

The film’s feel is deliberately retro, with 80s songs and Cliff Martinez’ synth-driven song driving the action in much the same way that an unholy mix of Wagner and the Pet Shop Boys fuelled Bronson. You would also hesitate to describe it as a conventional action film; the sole ‘normal’ car chase halfway through, while impressively mounted, feels almost airless, as if there’s nothing really at stake. But what it does do is to have a uniquely tense atmosphere, at times more like a horror film than a thriller, where the only thing redeeming any of these characters is their ability to love. And so, for all the forks stabbed into faces and moments of extreme brutality in lifts, the overall effect is of a surprising delicacy. Gosling and Winding Refn, who apparently hit it off exceptionally well during the course of the film’s production, are planning on collaborating again imminently, and on this basis it’s very exciting to see what they’re going to come up with next.


One Response to “Drive”

  1. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book
    in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home
    a little bit, but other than that, this is great blog.

    A fantastic read. I’ll definitely be back.

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