Staff Recommendations/ Drive

Cornerhouse AV Techician Dave Petty reviews Drive

I’ll get this out of the way – I’m a font geek. It’s a potentially shameful admission, but I know I’m far from alone on this. It’s such a pleasing thing to see when a good font is used well, and even more so when a bad one is used to the same effect. Which is why it came as a welcome shock when the opening titles of Drive came glaring out of the screen in neon pink Mistral – not exactly a favourite of mine, it has to be said. But for a film that has its feet firmly rooted in the 80s, both in terms of style and content, it’s a fitting choice that in a way typifies the film itself – straight out of left-field, but irrevocably drenched in familiar retro charm and violent, B-movie swagger.

Nicolas Winding Refn isn’t exactly a director known for his restraint (Bronson, Valhalla Rising), and Drive is no exception. Ryan Gosling plays the film’s nameless protagonist, a stunt driver who has a sideline in getaway driving for small-time heists, who’s world begins to unravel when his neighbour (Carey Mulligan) takes a certain shine to him – though with the imminent arrival of her husband, back home from a stretch in prison, it’s not long before things take a turn for the worst for all involved.

There’s a certain aesthetic to Drive that you will either love or hate – it’s all long, protracted pauses in conversations, glances across a room that seem to last forever, all the while Newton Thomas Sigel’s 80s-influenced synth score providing a not-so-subtle audio backdrop to proceedings. It’s like a straight-to-video crime thriller with arthouse leanings, dialogue stripped back to the bare minimum, caricature characters propelling the story to a succession of inevitably bloody conclusions. If you’re not a fan of unflinchingly graphic knife attacks and close-range shotgun blasts to the head, it could well be said this film isn’t for you. But that said, Drive is a film as simple as it is complex – it’s ambitious high art wrapped in a low art shell, shot through with a haunting, Lynchian dreamlike quality, though peppered with clichéd exchanges that at times border on the laughable. But in the same breath it lingers with you, a film that’s hard to shake even several days after you’ve left the dark of the theatre.

At times I was hoping the film would take a different turn, that it might take me in a direction I wasn’t expecting, but Winding Refn is, for all his stylistic pretensions, a director who sticks to his guns and is clearly making the films he wants to make – there’s very little evidence of studio interference in any of his films, and Drive could be his most commercially successful so far. Forget the likes of Death Proof – a film paying little more than lip service to a genre with another silk-jacketed stunt driver at its heart – Drive is the real deal, and whether you like it or not, it’s a hard film to forget.

Cornerhouse LiveWire Critic Jay Crosbie reviews Drive

Since the early critical acclaim of the Best Director award and Palm D’or nomination at Cannes Film Festival, Drive has been the word on everyone’s lips. However, hype can be a disastrous thing. A film can suffer from the enormity of pressure put on its shoulders by expecting cinephiles, but breathe easy; Drive isn’t just the existential heist-gone-wrong project that received a glorious standing ovation at Cannes, but the work of a director drawing all his influences into one pool, allowing them to complement one another in order to create a blood pumping, skull crushing masterpiece.

The film’s premise is simple. A nameless stunt driver by day and get away driver by night (Ryan Gosling) falls for his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan). However, upon realising her convict ex husband needs help to pull off one final heist in order to protect him and his family, ‘Driver’ offers his services. Alas, something goes wrong on the job and ‘Driver’ is on the run from criminal low life with one thing on his mind; to protect Irene.

Drive transcends modern Hollywood archetypal driving film standards, whilst conforming to them. This is probably the reason Drive is so god damn invigorating; the chase sequences aren’t engine roaring, screen cluttering messes. They’re usually stealthy, cat and mouse chase sequences soaked in tension. Refn’s choice of silence works wonders; you couldn’t hear a breath in the theatre and this level of subversion, whilst being obviously refreshing gives the film meat to its bones. You know from the offset you’re not just here for a one dimensional driving film, but a more artistic neon-noir film with flashes of pure nihilism.

Speaking of the nihilistic flashes of violence, the film seems to never shy away from the vicious atrocities it lays out. You see without refrain, skulls being crushed, heads exploding and razors slicing through skin, but it is shot in such a stylistic manner that it’s so easy to not only to forgive it, but to embrace it. The violence never seems to counteract the art but instead compliment it. The phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’ never seemed so applicable until now. The film’s protagonist is a play on the melancholic, man-of-few-words anti-hero who is played stunningly by Gosling. His body actions and eyes speak volumes so the script doesn’t have to. It makes his relationship with Irene seem more Sofia Coppola than Michael Bay.

But on a purely aesthetic level Drive is simply gorgeous. The city is portrayed through a series of neon lights and flashes giving the cityscape a futuristic glow, which is complimented by the perfect choice of soundtrack. On a personal note, if you want to worm your way into my heart fast, nothing does it better than a fusion of Kavinsky and slow predatory driving sequences. Clearly work has been put into perfecting exactly how Refn wanted to portray the city and the execution is nothing less than fantastic.

The term masterpiece is thrown around without regard to what it actually means these days, but in all honesty and I do tend to shy away from the term. Drive is a masterpiece. Destined to gather a cult following due to its ability to perfectly harmonize grindhouse, futuristic and noir influences with a touch of philosophical insight and a pitch perfect performance from Gosling. Not many films can command silence as dictatorial as Drive does but the silence allows the tension to flourish. If you have any interest, knowledge or care for cinema you should make time for Drive; a formidable slice of intelligent filmmaking.