Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“There’s a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don’t need to know the route. You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you’re on your own. Do you understand?”
I’m not sure what I expected going into Drive, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. I knew the film was one of those films that was considered ‘good,’ but I had no idea just how good it would be. My interest was further piqued when Ryan Gosling’s character, known only as Driver, delivers the quote above in the opening moments of the film, right before driving a heart stopping getaway through Los Angeles. The scene itself is perhaps one of the greatest opening scenes of all time; simultaneously introducing the protagonist and what he is good at, while also creating an almost unbearable level of tension through methodical camera work and slow, equally methodical actions. It’s a scene that not only establishes our protagonist, but sets up a tone and visual style for the rest of the film. There’s no fast-paced action during this opening scene. There’s no exciting, fast-paced music. There’s no dialogue. Yet, the film manages to create tension that connects you with the protagonist before anything happens. Drive is a beautiful example that less is sometimes more when making a film.
The film starts off with the above mentioned getaway, in which it is established that the Driver, moonlights as a getaway driver for various people. It is later established that he never works for the same group twice. During the day he splits his time between doing stunt work for films and working in a garage owned by Shannon (played by Bryan Cranston). Through a couple chance encounters the Driver gradually becomes more involved with his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan)and her son Benecio. When Irene’s husband, Stan (Oscar Isaac), is released from prison and his life is threatened, the Driver decides to help Stan get out of trouble in order to protect Irene and Benecio. As he continues to do more and more to keep Irene and Benecio safe, the Driver finds himself being dragged further and further into the Los Angeles criminal underworld.
Despite being a film about a driver, many of the actual driving scenes follow the same slow, thoughtful pace as the rest of the film. With the exception of one getaway scene in the middle of the film, Drive uses simple composition and slow camera movements in order to add emotional complexity to the story. This is a very visually appealing film, but its not the places or things that make the shots interesting or visually appealing, its the way Nicolas Winding Refn composes the shots. The compositions are well balanced, usually with a dividing line in the middle of the screen both horizontally and vertically in order to create separate areas on the screen for the story to progress. This usually meant that characters would dominate one side of the screen or the other even as the camera switched angles depending on who was talking. It would also guide the audiences focus from one part of the screen to the other in order to fully tell different aspects of the story. There’s nothing new or revolutionary about the composition in this film, and its this simplicity that adds to the “less-is-more” style the film adopts. Even the camera movements are simple. By shying away from the quick-cuts and fast motion that a similar action-oriented film might use, Drive gives its audience time to digest what is happening on the screen.
Even the acting is simple, yet evocative because of the same less-is-more approach. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan say very little to each other through the entire film. Instead, their “conversations” consist of short questions, short answers, and longing glances. At first it seems like they enjoy the idea of the other person more than the actual person, but as the Driver gets closer to Irene and Benecio and spends more time with them, it is clear that there’s more to their story than what we are seeing. The lack of dialogue between the two allows the audience to decide how deep their feelings for each other go. When Stan comes back from prison and fills the air between the Driver and Irene with stories and dialogue, it creates a stark contrast between the two men and how they interact with Irene. The lack of dialogue between the Driver and Irene also gives their kiss before the Driver protects her from the hit-man an increased amount of meaning because it is the first time they are seen physically interacting. It’s also a suitable climax to their relationship right before Irene sees how far the Driver will go for her.
Drive is a film that does everything right. The story is simple, and builds in complexity as the characters interact and make decisions independently of each other. It features a fantastic cast that plays each role beautifully. The shots are beautiful. The soundtrack is interactive. It’s difficult for me to find a flaw with this film, other than how long it too me to watch it.