Thursday, 29 September 2011
It's been called an arthouse version of 'The Transporter', though Nicolas Winding Refn's thriller 'Drive' has much more in common with the cool Californian car chases of 'Bullitt' and the professional criminal tropes of Michael Mann (in particular 'Thief'). Despite a seemingly contemporary setting, the car stereo music, the shocking pink opening titles and star Ryan Gosling's racing jacket all give it a very strong 80s vibe. Though despite all this loving homage, it's very much a film from the Danish director of 'Bronson' and 'Valhalla Rising', with Refn favouring long takes, limited dialogue and short bursts of intense violence centred around one enigmatic male lead.
'Drive' is the story of Gosling's LA stuntman and part-time mechanic known in the script as Driver. Driver is a man of few words (Gosling's dialogue through the entire film wouldn't comfortably fill half a page), never racing to fill silences or even answer direct questions as he chews on a toothpick. His motivations aren't altogether clear, beyond wanting to protect/possess his attractive neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and her young son as they come under threat from a criminal gang, and neither are his origins. By the end of the film you may even wonder whether he is a person at all as opposed to some mythical force of nature. Whatever he is, he isn't a conventional good guy.
Even if you look past the fact he moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals, a day job that gets him into a whole lot of trouble with Ron Perlman's petulant Mafia boss, this is a guy who thinks nothing of threatening a woman with violence when his back is against the wall. And his shy, quiet demeanour is undeniably disturbing given his capacity for sudden ultra violence, with the character seeming more than a little unhinged - particularly as he caves a man's skull in with his boots whilst a horrified Mulligan looks on. Perhaps the character has been looking for a fight all along as he usually has a hammer handy and - under Refn's unflinching gaze - you never have any doubt that we will see him use it.
Ultimately though 'Drive' for all its charms feels like a triumph of style over substance. Gosling's blank slate protagonist offers nothing emotionally and equally thinly drawn supporting characters are archetypes elevated only by the calibre of actor asked to portray them: Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks and Bryan Cranston are all excellent but have little to do, whilst Mulligan is just a bit wet throughout. However, there is no denying everything looks great, especially during the thrillingly choreographed car chase sequences, and the retro feel combined with the synthesizer heavy soundtrack is compelling. It isn't difficult to see why Refn won the best director prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, as some of the individual shot choices are truly inspired, whilst his direction somehow manages to seem both nimble and meticulously composed.
'Drive' is rated '18' by the BBFC and is out now across the UK.