The moment the Risky Business-style retro pink credits appear above a glittering night-time Los Angeles pulsing with ‘80s-inspired synth-pop, you know this film is going to be stylised. Drive‘s music is of particular note: tracks such as ‘Night Call’ and ‘A Real Hero’, by Kavinsky and College respectively, provide a phenomenal soundtrack of moody electro-pop – seemingly lifted straight out of 1985 – that adds to the film’s dark yet uplifting feel and cements Drive as a cinematic experience that fails to be forgotten.
Drive is the story of a soft-spoken, unnamed stunt driver by day and getaway driver by night (Ryan Gosling), whose carefully composed life becomes both derailed and enriched by his relationship with his neighbour, Irene (a charming Carey Mulligan). From his suede shoes to his leather driving gloves to the pièce de résistance, a scorpion-embroidered satin jacket, Gosling exudes an irresistibly cool retro style that will leave both women and men in awe. However, while Drive is one of the most genuinely stylish films of the last decade, this style is not superfluous: it works unobtrusively as part of the fabric of the film, and more importantly, does not substitute substance.
Contrary to what the trailers would have you believe, Drive is not a loud, brash, popcorn movie: the film is strongly influenced by the silent era and its disciples (such as Hitchcock) and while the aforementioned soundtrack swells in and out of much of the film, there are many moments of brilliant silence. In a scene that will be seared into the memory of even the most seasoned film buff, The Driver sits at the wheel, calmly waiting for his cargo of robbers to emerge; the only sound is the agitated ticking of his watch, set to precisely five minutes. Suddenly, another car pulls to his side, waiting threateningly; The Driver calmly looks over, then back, tension creeping into his face as we hear the squeak of his leather-gloved fists clenching . This is cinematic joy. Director Nicolas Winding Refn demonstrates how creating tension does not require screeching violins or even any kind of music; it is Drive’s silences that electrify even the smallest of actions, ensuring the audience is locked into the minutiae of the drama.
Also contributing to Drive’s compelling style is its outstanding cinematography of a kind rarely seen in contemporary film; whether in a dingy motel or a seedy strip club, Refn captures each moment with enormous care, creating striking images (which are often accompanied by violent scenes – the faint hearted should be warned that the violence can be nauseating). Furthermore, while the script is, for the most part, unremarkable, and there are perhaps a few too many gangster clichés, Gosling’s performance as the laconic Driver is fantastically restrained, giving weight to a role almost absent of dialogue.
Drive is utterly unmissable for anyone who appreciates cinema at its most simple level, regardless of era: much in the same fashion as the wonderful The Artist, Drive is an act of love for film, nostalgically celebrating its magic, whilst somehow feeling vitally fresh.
Drive (2011), directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, is distributed in the UK on Blu-ray disc and DVD from Icon Home Entertainment, Certificate 18.