As I sit here listening to Drive‘s excellent soundtrack, I’m unable to help my mixed feelings when I think about the film itself. I had avoided reviews (which, on reflection, may have been a bad thing) but the buzz surrounding Drive has been difficult to miss over recent days. More than one critic has called it his film of the year. With that kind of enthusiastic reaction, I was keen to see it for myself at the earliest opportunity and overlook my immunity to the Ryan Gosling Factor.
Put simply (and the plot is very simple), the film portrays a few weeks in the life of the Driver (Gosling) – a movie stunt driver who earns a little extra by being a mechanic and a lot extra by being a get away driver for the criminals of Los Angeles. He is inscrutable, monosyllabic at best, but strangely ostentatious with his silver scorpion jacket, his leather driving gloves and a toothpick. He doesn’t carry a gun. When he meets his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan), he falls for her smile and gentle ways with her son, putting himself into the position of father while Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) serves his time in prison. But when Standard is released, the Driver feels he has no option but to protect Irene and her son by helping Standard to do that one last job. It goes horrendously wrong and from that moment onwards there is no stopping the ride.
The instant that Drive began, it had me. The opening sequence, with its sensational techno beats, bright Los Angeles lights and glaring pink opening credits, triumphantly introduces us to the skill of the Driver, avoiding police helicopters and cars through his complete knowledge of LA’s roads and secrets. Ryan Gosling here is the epitome of cool, thanks in no small part to the fantastic eye and vision of the director Nicholas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising), who captures both the movement and stillness of the Driver. Throughout the film, there are clever glances at characters through mirrors, portraits, windows. We are most definitely on the outside. The Driver is unfathomable. Only gradually do we come to know him and perhaps it should not be a surprise that, to me at least, he is a monster.
The first half of the film is a treat to the eyes and ears. In addition, Carey Mulligan’s sweetness makes even the Driver smile and it’s hard to resist her or her son. The driving sequences are imaginatively mesmerising to watch and we see glimpses of a possible bright future, at work and at play. But once the robbery with Standard goes so wrong there is no turning back. The Driver goes from not carrying a gun on jobs to becoming an avenging angel of death. He doesn’t just kill people, he stamps and hammers the life out of them. We’re not spared the brutality and I’m not ashamed to admit that there were several times when I not only couldn’t look, I couldn’t even stay in my seat! I couldn’t even deal with the sound of the violence. It is relentless and the end is relentless and I was longing for that end.
I am not going to forget Drive in a hurry. There were moments of genius in its direction and acting, complemented by a soundtrack that I will enjoy for a long time to come. The visualisation of Los Angeles, the cameo of Christina Hendricks, the roles of Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks (brushing over Ron Perlman…) are excellent. I’m also very pleased to see Carey Mulligan in such a well-received film, having followed her career from its beginning. Personally, and I realise that I am more squeamish than most, I wished that the violence had been left more to the imagination. I didn’t need to be spattered with brain and gore to appreciate that the bad guys were very bad and that the Driver was on a mission.
But, if the intention was to make me understand that the Driver is a monster, then it made the point extremely effectively. However, it was at the cost of my enjoyment of a film, which otherwise I would have found extraordinary and would have made every effort to see again.
On a lighter note, back to the soundtrack. Here is a sampler (via VH1). The titles of the tracks and some of the images are slightly spoilery. I’m not going to post the trailer because it gives away the entire plot.