“Drive” delivers the goods

By Gavin Beeker

A cursory glance at the theatrical poster for “Drive” suggests that this movie is going to be special. The simple but atmospheric picture of the star, Ryan Gosling, and the title in pink script offer the first glimpse that this is going to be something more than your prototypical action movie. The expectation-shattering achievement of this film is its ability to offer the thrills of high-speed car chases and sudden brutal violence on top of an emotionally engaging and richly wrought story. This is the best new movie since “True Grit” was released last year.

“Drive” is an impressionistic masterpiece steeped in American mythology, set in and inseparable from that city most symbolic of 20th-century American culture, Los Angeles. From the opening scene, the film has a feeling of expansiveness, a purposive patience that slowly charges the atmosphere with electricity. The shots of the city establish its vastness, but there is also a sense of latent opportunity in the sprawl, if one knows where to find it. That caveat shows itself in the repeated disconnect between the neon-and-palm-tree exterior and the vast underbelly of personal, mostly illicit connections that make the city throb with life.

Pizza places are run by sinister Jewish mobsters (Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks). The Driver (Ryan Gosling) works as a stuntman by day, but a getaway driver for criminals at night. The characters have an understated intensity, their actions and motivations so purely wholesome or sinister that they seem animated by archetypal forces bigger than themselves. Gosling is incredible as the title character, and the quiet, savant-like focus of the Driver carries the film into its explosive end. The love interest next door is played by the impossibly doe-eyed Carey Mulligan, and the relationship between the two characters is a powerful expression of American optimism.

Los Angeles itself finds life as a character. It is depicted as a city that never forgets its glamorous past, with each generation grafting its own imprint upon the inherited coolness and spirit of the city that preceded it. The neon and hot rods of the ‘60s and ‘70s are built over the golden era foundation, and so on until the present day. The Driver wears an ever-present inside-out leather jacket that wouldn’t look out of place on James Dean as he drives his hot rod around town. There is never that sense of urban decay so common in films set in New York or Los Angeles, only a sense of continuity, of reaching back into the past.

It is tempting to call the film stylized, but that would be a disservice, bringing up associations of hyper-frenetic editing and in-your-face guitar riffs á la Guy Ritchie, or, more favorably, Quentin Tarantino. This film, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, is more reminiscent of the steady narrative crescendos and explosive, surreal violence of David Cronenberg. Sparse but powerful dialogue, slow and steady pacing, and a super-hifi soundtrack of neon-pink synthesizer straight out of the ‘80s coalesce into a stylish, powerful whole that provides a singular experience.

This is a film about which volumes could be written. In the finest cinematographic tradition, nothing conceptual is more than suggested, and often only visually. Therefore, there is a tremendous potential to imprint one’s own meaning upon the film. But the highest praise that can be offered, and that “Drive” most certainly deserves, is that every camera angle, every line of dialogue and every setting resonates with careful thought and skillful execution, and culminates in a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. This film is heartily recommended for cinephiles of all stripes, with the exception of those sensitive to graphic violence.

Gavin Beeker is a regular writer for the Collegian. He can be reached at [email protected].