The advanced hype on ‘Drive’ has almost been too unbelievable, like it had been generated out of thin air in preparation for the impending Oscar season. We all know that hype is what eventually carries films to be nominated. Good word of mouth is everything during this time of year, especially in critical circles, and ‘Drive’ has been tracking phenomenally. So, the question is: Does the film live up to the hype?
In one word: Yes.
‘Drive’ is a rare kind of action film, the kind that doesn’t feel like it has to be all about the action. As a matter of fact, the action is ‘Drive’ comes in third behind the characters and the mood. The success of the movie is settled squarely on its director, Nicolas Winding Refn, who knows how to temper the action peppered throughout the film. This isn’t a movie that’s full of full-tilt climactic action sequences that never stop. This is a character-driven piece punctuated by brutal, violent action scenes. It makes a difference.
Here’s the quick synopsis: Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a stunt driver by day and a getaway driver for the criminal underground at night. Like Jason Statham in ‘The Transporter’, Driver has a few strict rules. If you follow them, he’ll get you to where you need to go, while losing the cops in the process.
‘Drive’ learns from numerous bad examples of car chases that have gone before. These chases are smart and thought-out. Take for example the opening scenes where Driver meets a couple of guys who just pulled off a big job. The alarm sounds and they’re off, careening through the city streets of L.A., but with purpose. This isn’t a Michael Bay car chase where three city blocks are destroyed and numerous bystanders are put in danger. It’s much, much smarter than that. Here’s a director who understands that who can go the fastest is less important than who’s the smartest. Driver darts in and out of dark alleys and hides under overpasses. Tension builds as the electronica soundtrack booms, and we feel like we’re right there in the car, trying to evade the police. Refn has created an intimate, exciting experience.
The movie, in its barest form, is a typical revenge thriller. Without the guiding hand of a visionary director like Refn, ‘Drive’ would have devolved into something like ‘Faster‘. That’s not the case, fortunately. ‘Drive’ is given an artistic sheen. Some people may complain about the lulls in the action, but they actually serve the action to a greater degree. Instead of being pelted with non-stop shaky-cam action, ‘Drive’ slowly builds suspense scene upon scene until its quick bursts of violence and car-related mayhem take over.
Driver meets a young lady in his apartment building played by the always stunning Carey Mulligan. We soon learn that her recently incarcerated husband is still deep in his criminal life, and owes people money. They’re going to come after his wife, and his son, whom Driver forms a bond with. Driver is a man of few words, but Gosling plays the character well. We never really know his back story, or what motivates him, but there’s no need to. Hell, we don’t even know the guy’s real name. None of this is needed because we root for the antihero anyway.
Unfortunately, ‘Drive’ is being marketed as something it’s not, in fear that people won’t go see it if they realize that it’s not balls-to-the-wall action all the time. ‘Drive’ is less like modern action movies, and more like ‘The American‘ with cars. If you think about it that way, you’ll be better prepared for what you’re going to see. This is definitely one of the best films of the year.