Drive (starring Ryan Gosling)
From the very beginning of director Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be your typical action film. Whether it be the Euro-tech music from Desiree, College and Electric Youth or the 80’s-retro neon pink lettering, nothing about the filmmaking in DRIVE is familiar. As the film opens, we hear “the Driver”, played by Ryan Gosling (we never get his real name), explain via cell phone the rules of his involvement as the getaway driver to an unknown group of thieves. Then we cut to him sitting in a parked car, calmly waiting as the five-minute allotment slowly ticks away. The Driver doesn’t flinch, twitch or even speak. We don’t know what’s being stolen and the only sounds to be heard are the police scanner and the basketball game he’s listening to. But there’s so much tension built into this five minute sequence (and the subsequent getaway) that virtually every seat in the theater had handprints permanently ingrained in the armrests.
And yet the premise is one we’ve seen dozens of times over the past decade; a loner tough guy falls for a damsel in distress and a lot of bad guys suffer. The script doesn’t have anything that jumps out at you as being genius dialogue or fascinating plot twists. If anything, the brilliance of the script is in how much it didn’t say. We felt the intensity of the opening heist and getaway despite the fact there was no dialogue spoken between any of the characters. And we felt a true connection between Driver and Irene (Carey Mulligan) even though they didn’t really do much together and their dialogue was limited to the bare minimum. Through brilliant directing, we not only got established characters we truly cared about, we had extremely intense action sequences shot in a way that we’ve never seen before.
Refn won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival this year and rightfully so. His work in DRIVE was so incredible in its simplicity and beauty that I couldn’t help but be in awe throughout the movie’s 100 minute runtime. I thought BRONSON was unique and VALHALLA RISING was intense, but Refn has taken everything he’s learned from his earlier films and put it into a simple “action” movie that turned out to be so much more.
But great directing is nothing without great acting and he got the most out of Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks. The actors have to convey emotions with facial expressions and strategic glances that would otherwise be expressed with dialogue or fast editing. This was most evident in the scenes between Gosling and Mulligan, where a glance across the hall or a simple holding of the hands managed to be more romantic and intimate than an entire Nicolas Sparks novel. And although there are too many excellent scenes to mention them all, the one that stood out the most was the elevator scene where one of the most romantic moments of the film came in the middle of one of the most intense.
Any movie that inspires me to download a Euro-techno-pop song has to be doing something right. But creative use of music was not the only thing going for DRIVE. Refn succeeded on every aspect of filmmaking and turned in one of the greatest directing efforts we’ve seen in recent memory. DRIVE has already received much deserved praise and hopefully will continue to do so as the awards season progresses.