The name of the film kind of gives away the plot, doesn’t it? I am sure I have an idea of what everyone expected from this film, because I did the same: Probably some kind of Transporter rip-off with a bunch of high-octane car chases, a far-fledged plot serving little purpose and non-existential characters. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Transporter fan, it’s just that “Too much of anything is good for nothing”, as the old adage goes. Surprisingly, what I got was the definitive anti-thesis of Transporter; and a damn good one at that.
The film opens exactly as one would’ve guessed – inspired by Transporter some might say – with the protagonist accepting a job offer and laying out his rules to the client. They’ve got five minutes to complete the job and get into the car. He has five minutes to get them to safety. Anything that happens within those five minutes is his responsibility; anything that happens outside is theirs. So far, so good. The surprises started coming one after the other next. For starters, this was the most low-key getaway I’ve ever seen in a film. No crashes, no explosions and certainly no flying cars – yet you could see the meticulous attention to detail with each passing moment in this sequence. And the opening credits that followed seemed to have been inspired from 80’s thriller films – groovy fonts, neon-pink lettering and the works.
The film is about Driver (Ryan Gosling) as he refers to himself. His name is not revealed throughout but that’s part of the mystery. Apart from helping people with getaways, he is also a part-time stunt car driver and a full-time mechanic working in Shannon’s (Bryan Cranston) garage. The latter is also responsible for his other two “jobs”, and is mentoring him to be a racecar driver with monetary help from local mobster Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his partner Nino (Ron Perlman).
As is usually the case, his life is relatively trouble-free until Irene (Carey Mulligan) comes into the picture. Their first few meetings are casual – a conversation outside the apartment, a run-in at the shopping mall – but soon they’re holding hands and her son is taking an attachment to him. She’s married though and her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is on his way back after serving time. Things get murkier as Standard is beaten up on account of protection money he owes, and Driver offers his expertise to get him out of trouble.
In the realm of modern Hollywood, Driver is as introverted an action-hero as we’re likey to find. Ryan Gosling plays the character in a manner that reminded me of Michael Madsen from Tarantino films. During the film’s early portions, he doesn’t say much of anything at all; even in the quieter romantic moments with Irene, he displays a lot more emotion with his face and eyes rather than he does with words. As the film progresses and the troubles start, he has to depict a certain dark side to the character without losing the audience; and he does this perfectly. This was my first “real” exposure to Ryan Gosling as an actor, and I was greatly impressed with what I saw.
Carey Mulligan plays Irene as somebody with the ideal girl-next-door quality that can get through to Driver in the first place. Bryan Cranston stands Gosling in good stead throughout. Albert Brooks’ performance as the Jewish mobster is relatively subdued when compared to Ron Perlman’s over-the-top portrayal of Nino; both of which are exactly what the film demands.
Technically, the film is flawless. Apart from the usage of bright colors during the Driver’s trips with Irene, this is a dark film and most of it takes place at nighttime. As a result, it is the responsibility of cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel to set the mood and he does it with perfect usage of lighting throughout. There are also some great POV shots from inside the car during the couple of getaway sequences that heighten tension better than high-octane explosions and car crashes ever could have. The few songs that the film uses in the background also have a heavy 80’s vibe about them.
Drive is definitely not one for the squeamish though. There is an extraordinary level of violence that would’ve easily found home in one of Scorsese’s films. In fact, I felt that there was a hint of Scorsese in many parts of the film, and that is never a bad sign. This is art-house cinema at its finest. It is hard to see Drive striking box-office gold because, for what is supposedly an action/thriller, the pacing is definitely quite slow. But the level of tension it generated in me is more than any of the so-called recent blockbusters did; I was literally on the edge of my seat throughout the film’s entirety. If what I’ve summarized above looks like it will be to your taste, then it is easy for me to recommend Drive as it is one of the best films I’ve seen this year.