I was looking forward to the exciting story of the stunt driver by day and getaway driver by night with another promising performance from the ever growing in stature Ryan Gosling and another stylish and intelligent looking film from Nicolas Winding Refn.
He's a loner, until he meets his new neighbour played by Carey Mulligan, a young mother whose husband is in prison left to look after her child on her own. He grows attached to both the mother and the boy and helps them both out while the father is away.
When the father returns the driver soon discovers he's in debt up to his neck and he's being forced to do a job for the criminal he's in debt to. However the job turns bad and when the boy is threatened the driver decides that he has to get involved.
The film opens running us through exactly what the driver does for his evening job, presenting the visual style of the film as it does so, a style that is distinctive and strong, feeling a little like a very real Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
Another thing you notice from the opening is the strong pacing, the excellent camera work and editing, evident through the quiet moments waiting for the car to start as much as the car chase sequence itself. While there is some action in the film the real concentration is on the thriller which the film is much more than the action film you might have expected it to be.
Drive is more about the characters and their relationship than it is a stunt/getaway driver film, and the driving aspects only come out a few times but when they do they are exciting, well choreographed, and keep you glued to the screen creeping to the edge of your seat.
The title itself provides the same dichotomy as the film, the backdrop of the dull tones of Los Angeles with the bright pink title and the electric music making it feel that it had come right out of Vice City. This does well to portray the similar balance of the film where the opening car chase presents a very different view from the story contained within, more the classic western and thriller.
There's a distinct style to the non-action sections of the film where a lot of the story progression between the characters is played out visually through their long lingering glances and actions, or for most of the time they are together, their inactions.
It can be a very effective style, however it can also lead to long dull scenes and an audience desperately wanting something to happen or be said, something real between the characters. Thankfully that doesn't happen with Drive although there was a section early in the film where the two lead characters do a little too much of the lingering, almost emotionless staring, and while that might make for a complicated relationship, for the audience it can start to get a little frustrating.
However these moments don't last too long and it doesn't, as I was concerned for a short time, begin to feel like Shame (Filmstalker review) where the story, even with dialogue, feels as though it accomplishes little in a far too drawn out way.
While the story already turned from action to a slowly played out love story, it takes a sharp turn back towards the action when the driver decides to get more involved with the family's problems, trying to help the husband get himself out of the hole he's in and at the same time dragging the driver into the very same hole and taking us along with him.
Here is where the film turns more to feeling like a western such as Pale Rider although with the horses being under the bonnet. The action picks up and the unknown, quite stranger seeming as though he's in too deep but managing to fight back and stand up for those that are honest and true.
What I really liked about the film's pacing is that even here it doesn't decide to leap all guns blazing forward. Of course there are scenes like that but they do last a few moments rather than entire scenes of pure action for the popcorn crowd taking over the film.
While the action does pick up the turning point for the main character comes a little later, after he's realised just how sour the job has gone. This offers another interesting contrast for the main character, a moment where the romantic storyline between the driver and the wife reaches its peak and the violence truly begins with the driver showing his true nature.
The pacing in this scene is particularly strong and is edited nigh on perfectly delivering one of the most powerful moments in the film and one of the most shockingly brutal. This harsh contrast and an increase in pace marks a clear move of the film towards the dramatic drive of the revenge thriller.
Still for this violent scene as well as a few others the violence remains more psychological rather than anything approaching gore or horror, playing off camera and through the noise and the driving action of the character, and that just makes it all the more brutal and painful.
From here on there is much more tension and suspense, returning to what we felt during the opening scenes, and the film delivers a strong and very satisfying ending.
I'm not entirely sure that Carey Mulligan and Ryan Gosling really delivered a great performance in the first half of the film, they both seem to have so little to do, come the time when events are building up both actors get more material to deliver and from here they do deliver really well.
It's not Mulligan or Gosling that really caught my attention, nor the casting of Ron Perlman, it was actually the casting of Albert Brooks as the bad guy and he does make a superb baddie. His understated menace is clear throughout from small lines such as:
"My hands are dirty"
The simple line he delivers the positioning of the characters and the pauses in their comments manage to say quite a bit without spelling anything out. I really loved that scene for the way it felt and for Brooks delivery.
However the scene in the restaurant is where he really shows his mettle and it's not something you've doubted from the performance to date. This sets up the character much like we saw for the scene of the driver early on, and when we see him tidying up loose ends in the garage there's really no doubt how dangerous and menacing the character is.
The electric themed score is another aspect of the film that feels at odds with itself and yet manages to work really well throughout. Yes there is a faint feeling of connection with Vice City with the titles, score and jacket. The score is unusual and when you do consider it more closely it does feel like it shouldn't work with what you're watching, but it does work and rather than date the film it breathes dynamism and creativity into it.
The picture is strong throughout the film with great lighting which holds well through the darker scenes and the brighter glare of the outdoors sunlit scenes. The tones are muted and the indoor scenes feel particularly filled with atmosphere and mood.
Dolby Digital 5.1
The DVD 5.1 audio track is bold and takes advantage of the rear speakers with quite some movement around the audio field. Some of the more violent scenes really do use the sound to great effect to compound what is happening on screen and really get into your head.
Interview with Nicolas Winding Refn; Photo Gallery
Interview with Nicolas Winding Refn
The interview with Nicolas Winding Refn is a little awkward at times and you can feel the critic getting quite the cold shoulder but the audience provide some interesting questions which garner some equally interesting responses. Still this is disappointing that this is the only real extra.
These are just a few photos to add something extra on the disc.
The only real disappointment for me with this film was the lack of extras, and with a film of this quality it's almost crying out for more additional material, something I believe you do get on the Blu-ray release. Still the picture and audio are strong on the DVD and the film itself is compelling and powerful, beautifully shot with some excellent pacing, Drive is a great thriller that really will have you engaged with the characters from start to finish delivering a powerful final act.
Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan are good but I can't help but feel they had little to do in the first half of the film. In the second act Gosling carries more emotion but is still rather stilted and flat. Really though it was Albert Brooks who gives the best performance in the film, cast rather surprisingly as the bad guy and is one of the best reasons to see the film.