Movie Review: Drive (2011, Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)


A dollar short and two years too late? Sounds like my M.O., so lets run with it.
I’d heard a lot about Drive, especially after some woman tried to sue FilmDistrict over a “misleading” trailer and all of it was good. All this hullabaloo left me with an itching curiosity to get up and go out of my excruciatingly busy way (watching episodes of some cw teen drama over and over again while crying into my microwaveable dinner), to see the film. But life, as it always does, just happened to get in the way.

After many failed attempts to start Drive, I finally got the gusto to sit down and watch it only after a friend of mine, who had promised to see the movie with me, watched it home, alone, and then texted me about how fantastic it was afterwards. So, out of spite (for who I’m not sure) I went onto netflix and turned it on. And I have to say, I was blown away (old news, right?) so much so that I’m sitting here writing about it nearly two years later.

To go over it briefly, Drive follows the mysterious and unnamed Driver (played by Ryan Gosling) who is a mechanic/stunt driver by day, and a getaway driver by night. He falls in love, something goes wrong, Christina Hendrix shows up, and chaos ensues. While the story itself is nothing to write home about, the acting, pacing, and editing of Drive make it a truly engaging, edge of your seat thriller that grips you from beginning to end, (and, despite the aforementioned lawsuit, there was a whole bunch of driving. And, in fact, there was a lot of cars too. So there).

Gosling’s character is both terrifying and endearing, kind and merciless, and as deep as he seems simple. While it might not seem so, (seeing as the film opens on a car chase,) the overall beginning of the film is pretty relaxed. The Driver takes us, and two thieves, through the chaotic streets of L.A. like its nothing at all, calmly staring at the road before him as he ducks and weaves through oncoming traffic to avoid the police. Maybe I was the only one, but for some reason I was calm, assured, that everything would be ok. As if Gosling, the driver, was capable of anything. And to this point, he was.

We find out through some side dialogue after the driver meets, and becomes interested in a woman and her son, that he mysteriously showed up in LA 5-6 years prior. No history, no baggage, and a surprising set of talents. We find out even less about the driver from himself. When is addressed, or talked to, he gives the simplest answers. His tone, however, is not one of coercion. He seems to be a man of few words, simple, but sweet. Something about how he speaks is so kind, innocent, that you forget to question his past and instead become enveloped by his growing fondness for the woman and her son.

And for these few scenes, the film allows you to forget his secret past, his getaway driving, and watch (and root for him to) fall in love. Despite the small amount of dialogue, something about the facial expressions, character interactions, and editing build a visceral connection with the characters that binds the viewer to them for the rest of the story, truly engaging you when things begin to fall apart.

Yet suddenly, the pace picks up. We discover the woman the Driver is interested to is married, and her husband is being released from prison. Yet instead of jealousy or rage, the driver remains calm, accepting, truly wishing for the happiness of the woman he cares for. Yet the Husband comes with a past, once which threatens the lives of the two people the Driver has suddenly found himself so close with. So he offers his help to clear a debt to protect the family he has grown to love.

Everything seems fine. But then, the husband is shot. A tense car chase ensues, where, for the first time, you don’t know what the outcome might be. They run back to a hotel, where Christa Hendrix’s (who shows up as a passenger) head is literally blown off, The driver impales someone with a curtain rod, and blood starts flying everywhere. Suddenly, every character’s life is up for grabs, and the feeling of serenity that followed the driver around, that he seemingly was capable of anything, evaporates.

And while the pace of the film picks up, the graphic violence also throws the viewer into the tension. Where we were once protected by the driver’s calm demeanor, endearing one-liners and boyish smile, we are now faced with gangsters getting stabbed repeatedly in the neck, on camera, with forks shoved into their eyes. The story continues to climb, gosling crushes a mans head with his boot in an elevator, the plot continues to twist, and then the film ends, in my opinion, exactly how it should. Surprisingly, I have little to no complaints about Drive, and I highly recommend it to any and all viewers, even those who are afraid of a little blood. This film definitely wins cannes. (The soundtrack also isn’t something to miss, and is completely worth listening to independently of the film).

On a side note — while watching the movie I was interested where Gosling’s accent had come from. It seemed to be some sort of new-york-ish, with a twinge of something else that I couldn’t quite place my finger on. So, after making my way to good ol’ wikipedia I discovered these nuggets:

“ He “hated” being a child,[7][13] was bullied in elementary school[14] and had no friends until he was “14 or 15”.[15][16] In Grade 1, having been heavily influenced by the film First Blood, he took steak knives to school and threw them at other children during recess. This incident led to a suspension.”


“He developed an idiosyncratic accent because, as a child, he thought having a Canadian accent didn’t sound “tough”. He began to model his accent on that of Marlon Brando.[21] He dropped out of high school at the age of seventeen to focus on his acting career.”

Which made me think: maybe this was the start of Gosling’s acting career. He came from the great white north to LA., lying about his home. Did some driving, used his steak-knife experience to kill some people, and then starred in the notebook and became the hero of women everywhere. It might not be the case, but after watching and being entranced by Drive, that’s my new story for him.

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