Second Opinion – Drive (2011)

Drive, 2011.

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman.


A Hollywood stunt driver (Gosling) moonlighting as a ‘wheelman’ discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong.

is currently wrestling Red State at the top of the best films that I’ve seen this year.

Nicolas Winding Refn is a name that we’re going to be hearing more and more often from Hollywood. This film exploded onto the international festival scene at the Cannes Film Festival, where Refn was nominated and awarded the prize for best direction; which is no mean feat! [Other recipients to name a few are Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Jean Luc Godard, Abbas Kiarostami, Michael Haneke – I could go on]. I guess that a lot of the directing plaudits go to the visual construction of the picture, so I’ll start there. From the outset, based on the synopsis, you may have been expecting some kind of Hollywood derivation of The Transporter series. This is definitely not the case.

Refn’s Drive belongs in a triple bill with Michael Mann’s Thief and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Refn slows the pace of the camera down. Every motion is purposeful. Refn’s protagonist is condusive to a Travis Bickle-esque skewed world perspective and the camera relishes in slow subjective moments. Refn also winds back the clock (as Tarantino did with Death Proof) sticking to very logical and classical car chase visual aesthetic. And it is so refreshing. Greengrass’ Bourne influence seems to have made most films attempt to approximate that frenetic hyper cutting impressionist aesthetic. The slower camera movement emphasises the almost golden look of the film. It somehow instantly detaches you from a more gritty action film that sap all the colour from the film. L.A’s famous golden sunsets and yellow streetlights form the main palette for Drive and it reinforces the perspective.

Now there are directors who are dubbed ‘actors director’s’ because they are able to extract really powerful performances from all involved. Refn constructed some quite brilliant performances that required far more physical acting that dialogue driven performance. Ryan Gosling’s lead character doesn’t have much to say at all throughout – you’re forced to rabidly read every nuanced expression, every flicker in his eyes in order for him to fully convey his character.

The Cliff Martinez score is such a foundation of the film that it would be remiss of me to not mention it. Refn’s Drive (in the best possible way) feels like a music video – because the accompanying music amplifies everything that we see on screen. If you see Drive – get yourself a copy of the soundtrack – it is stellar. Drive feels as if it is was specifically made to accompany the beats, sweeping sombre lyrics and synthetic atmosphere.

Onto the cast. Ryan Gosling’s measured and minimalistic role is pitch perfect. His strong silence alludes to an almost fundamental detachment from the norm. He feels as if he’s already running from something – only ever comfortable on the move. Refn’s Driver is the Mannian professional. Michael Mann’s continuing thesis of professional men would go perfectly with the antisocial, meticulous and hyper-skilled driver. Bryan Cranston is great as the Driver’s caretaker Shannon. Cranston is his connection to work (legal and illegal) and facilitates his interaction to the outside world. Cranston – now so famous for his aggro Breaking Bad persona – shifts gears into the mentor role perfectly. I don’t think it’s possible for him to be bad in any film – but he’s great even in his small role here. Carey Mulligan is bursting into the Hollywood acting scene as another Michelle Williams type. Here she’s the “love interest” Irene in the most simplistic terms. Mulligan is a window into an emotional connection – which he’s since been isolated from. The most serene and lovely moments in the film is the Driver exploring what it could be like to be “normal”.

Ron Pearlman is great as the overtly sadistic and bloodthirsty mobster Nino, who has a past with Shannon (Cranston) that’s important to the story, so I won’t spoil it. And finally, the wonderful, the one and only: Albert Brooks. His villain Bernie Rose anchors this film to its biggest 70s influences. Bernie is a subtly vicious and dangerous bastard. He’s old school – in the best possible sense. In a way he’s the antithesis of our Driver. His gravelly and understated delivery has you hanging from every single word. He’s brilliant.

Warning – Drive is easily one the of the most violent films of the year. Again – hoping not to spoil it – in the same way Scorsese portrays extreme, disturbing, brutal violence that doesn’t ever reduce the ‘meaning’ of the violence (the the “Gorno” Rambo 4 pulling out peoples throats, babies thrown into fire). There are moments that I audibly and uncontrollably gasped. However, don’t let this deter you – violence is meant to be disturbing. And I know I may be blathering on about Scorsese but if anyone can say that the scene on the beach, if only for the Driver’s look in that mask, isn’t reminiscent of Bickle in Taxi Driver then … I won’t care because the fact that it reminded me only enhanced my viewing experience.

To sum up, there are so many great reasons to see Drive -the direction; the aesthetic but particularly the perspective that Refn forces us into throughout. The soundtrack & score are exceptional – this film feels as if it was specifically made to accompany the beats, and synthetic atmosphere. The cast & their performances particularly the rarely flawed Ryan Gosling (my favourite actor working in Hollywood at the moment) and the flawless and magnetic Albert Brooks, whose voice claws at you – you’re well and truly a slave to every slippery delivery. Has there been a better exchange this year than when our Driver meets Brooks’ Bernie...

Bernie hand outstretched – gesturing toward the driver.

Driver: My hands are dirty.
Bernie: So are mine.

That moment alone made me think that I may have to begin piecing together my top 10 moments this year that I wanted to stand in the theatre and applaud fucking great dialogue and acting.

Do yourself a favour… get in your car and drive to see Drive!

Blake Howard is a writer/site director/podcaster at the