Review by Gordon Justesen
Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar
Isaac, Albert Brooks
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 100 Minutes
Release Date: January 31, 2012
“How bout this. Shut your mouth, or I'll kick your teeth down your throat and shut it for you.”
Outside of the works of Michael Mann, I've never experienced a more artistically made action thriller than Nicolas Winding Refn's scorching hot masterpiece, Drive. You'd probably be hard pressed to find a person who simultaneously appreciated ultra-violent fare and films from the art house scene. But for those very few of us who exist, myself included, I can assure you that this is truly a film that was made with us in mind!
The very mentioning of Mann is quite fitting since the film evokes the very mood and feel of some of his films, particularly his 1981 debut feature, Thief. Another key inspiration is Walter Hill's 1977 cult-favorite, The Driver. If you were to mix that film's plot with the mood of one of Mann's works, this is definitely what you would end up with.
Being a lifelong Mann devotee, it is most exhilarating to see another top-level filmmaker paying homage and for two reasons. First, Mann to me has always been underrated so any type of tribute to him is always warranted as far as I'm concerned. Secondly, Refn isn't ripping off Mann's style in any way, but rather using it to anchor what is very much his own original machine.
And what a machine Drive is! Not only is this a one of a kind marriage of action thriller and the art house, but it's also an A-level neo noir with a retro 80s feel courtesy of one of the best soundtracks you'll ever hear in a single movie. The phrase, “being on the edge of your seat” is one of the most overused descriptions for conveying how intense a movie can be...and yet, that's how I can accurately describe my state upon my first viewing.
I can't think of another film in recent memory that has done a more invigorating lead character establishment. In a sequence nearly free of dialogue, we get a glimpse of the film's lead character, credited simply as Driver (Ryan Gosling), in action as he serves as a getaway driver for two criminals performing a heist, resulting in him elude police in only five minutes time, then parking the car in a crowded location and disappearing quietly in the L.A night. Any film that can open with scene like that, where we learn all we need to know about a lead character and in a way that is shown to us rather than explained, has got the makings of a winner already.
In addition to his gig as a getaway driver, he also works as a movie stuntman and as a mechanic in a garage run by his loyal best friend, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), who also supplies him with the appropriate cars for the getaway driving. As part of a business opportunity involving race cars, Shannon turns to a pair of business investors with mob ties, hothead Nino (Ron Perlman) and the more calm and refined Bernie (Albert Brooks), for the money needed to start it all up. By putting the no-named driver in the seat of their race car, Shannon insists that they will never lose.
Outside of his work, Driver is a silent lost soul with no connections to anyone. That soon changes when he offers a ride home to a waitress named Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, who also happen to live in the apartment next door to him. They start spending a great deal of time together, and eventually it seems a romance is indeed possible.
But matters a bit more complicated than it would appear. Irene has a husband named Standard (Oscar Isaac) who is about to be released from jail. We soon learn that Standard is heavily in debt to some thugs who offered him protection while inside. These same men are pressuring him to pull off a pawn shop heist as a way of coming up with the money he owes.
So in order to ensure that Irene and her son are not the victims of any future threats, Driver offers his driving services to Standard so the debt can be paid off. But when the heist goes down, things go from bad to worse in a heartbeat, and Driver is in way over his head. And although this sounds like a familiar storyline, the way it's executed (along with some of victims in the movie) is nothing short of mind-blowing.
We soon learn that the money stolen from the pawn shop is directly linked to Nino, which means that Bernie is forced to clean up the mess. And it's at this point when Drive is elevated into one of the most insane exploits in cinematic ultra-violence of all time. Meaning when you see a shotgun aimed at a person's face, you will see the full impact...or when someone gets a foot stomping to the throat, you will see the full impact...or when you see Nicolas Winding Refn's name on a future movie, proceed with caution if you're squeamish in any way.
You wouldn't exactly expect brilliant acting in a film of this kind, but Drive offers up one of the best ensembles of recent memory, all of whom deliver standout work. It's been an insanely huge year for Ryan Gosling, as this was one of three high profile releases he was in. He delivers a perfected cool presence in this film, but is also an absolute crazy badass when the blood-soaked second half kicks in.
But the huge revelation here is that of Albert Brooks as the chief villain of the piece. I would have never imagined that the same man who made me laugh hysterically in films such as Real Life and Broadcast News (in addition to portraying one of the best fathers ever in Finding Nemo) would go on to create one of the most chillingly sadistic heavies I've ever seen. And the fact that we first see Bernie as a calm, almost likable guy before switching gears into that of a psychopathic clean-up man at the drop of a hat plays a big part in that. It's a shame the movie got snubbed at this year's Oscars, but simply inexcusable that Brooks couldn't even nab a supporting actor nomination.
Drive is a rare breed of a film in that in every single aspect of the filmmaking, there isn't a single false note. In my book, that adds up to a work of sheer perfection. That quality alone can get the adrenaline going for a movie lover, and since the movie itself is already a potent adrenaline pumping ride...you get where I'm going.
A tremendously slick looking flick gets one hell of a tremendously slick visual treatment on this Sony Blu-ray release. Whether capturing LA in the nighttime or sunlit daytime, this presentation is nothing but visual gold in 1080p. The amount of detail in the images, in particular the POV shots from Driver's car as it cruises through the LA night, is nothing short of remarkable. Both director Refn and cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel have composed such a striking looking film, and though it couldn't be faltered in any top flight format, it does demanded to be viewed in high def!
Having seen the film in theaters, I couldn't wait to hear it in HD...and sure enough, I wasn't disappointed for a single second...but rather riveted for every second. The soundtrack alone, which I highly recommend downloading on iTunes, is enough to recommend the Blu-ray, as every track (especially that of Kavinsky's “Nightcall”, which plays during the opening titles) is delivered through the channels in what I like to call pure aural beauty. Cliff Martinez' moody score is also heard most effectively. The film did manage to score a sole oscar nod for Sound Editing, so that should be an indicator of what to expect here. Everything from roaring engines to gun blasts to body stabbings is captured at 100%!
First, a brief rant. I should knock off a star or two for the horrendous cover art we are supplied with. Not only does Gosling appear to be in photoshop hell, but even the beautiful pink colored font the title had on the poster was scratched and replaced with the sort of font and lettering that a direct to video title would be embarrassed to have. Let's hope this all changes, should a Special Edition release surface in the future.
As for the actual extras, we get four brief featurettes; “I Drive: The Driver”, “Driver and Irene: The Relationship”, “Under the Hood: Story” and “Cut to the Chase: Stunts”. But the best feature on the disc is a 25 minute, quite revealing interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn titled “Drive Without a Driver”, in which Refn reveals what it all took to get this film off and running.
Drive is truly a cinematic ride for the true cinematic lover. I shouldn't even have to mention at this point that it's one of 2011's greatest films. Brilliantly crafted in every possible aspect, and packed with enough intensity and brutality for three movies, this is one film experience I highly urge everyone to check out.