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Cult Column: Drive

Last Thursday marked the anniversary of one of the most critically acclaimed films in recent times. In 2011, Drive burst onto the independent Hollywood scene delivering a gritty picture with all the style and grace of a mid-80s neo-noir. An adaption of James Sallis’ 2005 novel of the same name, Drive tells the story of an unnamed protagonist (Ryan Gosling) who is a movie stuntman by day, and a getaway driver by night. However, after a botched million-dollar heist, things start to go south for the lead as he is exposed to a criminal underworld far beyond anything he had envisaged. 

When this Nicholas Winding Refn picture was first shown at the Cannes Film Festival it was given a standing ovation. Refn himself would pick up the Best Director award at the festival. After previously directing the Pusher crime trilogy in his native Denmark and the Charles Bronson biopic, it is little wonder why Refn was enlisted to deliver this American pulp to the screen. The Danish director is never one to shy away from bringing the realism and grit of criminal underbellies to the big screen. But perhaps what distinguishes this film from his previous projects is the acting performances in Drive. 

Performances in previous Refn films, like Tom Hardy’s in Bronson (2008) or Mads Mikkelsen’s character in Pusher (1996), are loud, brash, and flamboyant individuals who struggle to keep a cool head. Contrast this with Gosling’s character in Drive who is calm, measured, and unwilling to let the pressure of situations get the better of him. Even when Gosling faces near-death situations, he somehow manages to keep the same expressionless look on his face which adds a level of suspense and numbness to his character. Other notable performances come from Albert Brooks and Oscar Isaac, playing characters interlinked with the Los Angeles organised crime world. 

If you’ve not seen this film, it may appear from this review that Drive is simply another contemporary B-movie action flick. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While it is undeniable that it features scenes typical of the modern action film, it is isn’t just another car-chase flick. This is in part a result of the expert cinematography of Newton Thomas Sigel. Shooting with an ARRI Alexa Mini camera created an urban, neon glow that works well for the story and setting. It’s difficult to think of a film that better captures how city lights reflect into a car at night than this one, producing a natural atmosphere and transporting the viewer directly behind the wheel.

Overall, Drive is a film with a lot of tension and power. There may be some plot holes, as throughout the film characters are introduced and disappear without much explanation. At times it is difficult to see how some of the death scenes have any relevance to the overall plot. Nevertheless, it boasts a very strong cast with some notable cameos, including that of Christina Hendricks, and is notable for its score and cinematography. If a suspenseful, violent, and at times gruesome action film is what you’re looking for then Drive certainly has you covered. 

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr