You’ve probably heard by now that Drive is very, very good. That’s because Drive is very, very good. Indeed, it’s about as good as a Hollywood film can be these days—it even bears comparison with the great B-movies of the late ’70s / early ’80s, which supposedly went extinct when Hollywood transformed itself into a industry of nothing but A-movies. (Box Office Mojo lists Drive’s production budget as $15 million, which is half as much as Woody Allen’s most recent film.)
After the jump is a spoiler-free list of ten things that I loved about the film.
1. Ryan Gosling, who has tremendous screen presence. He of course plays “The Driver”; existentialism has been a core convention of the driving movie since at least Monte Hellman‘s Two Lane Blacktop (1971). (That film’s writer, Rudy Wurlitzer, borrowed it from the Western, which borrowed it from the urban noir; see also Walter Hill‘s The Driver (1978).) Gosling glides through the film wearing a shy smile that he stole from Travis Bickle, and an utterly gorgeous white satin bomber jacket that his costume designer stole from Kenneth Anger. (The clothing in this film is a total pleasure of its own—as are Gosling’s perfect sideburns.)
2. All the other acting—especially Carey Mulligan, who’s perfect in what could have been a thankless role, and Oscar Isaac, who innovates in what could have been a terribly cliched role. Albert Brooks is as great as he’s always been (i.e., one of the best), and even Ron Perlman, whom I’m not normally such a big fan of, shines here. (He’s onscreen for ten minutes total, but they’re a rather charged ten minutes.) (Something similar can also be said for Christina Hendricks‘s own ten minutes.)
3. The direction, which is at all times deceptively simple and deservedly self-assured. The director, Nicolas Winding Refn, also made also the Pusher trilogy (1996–2005), Bronson (2008), and Valhalla Rising (2009), all of which I meant to see, but missed. I have some catching up to do.
4. Its love of genre conventions. Like any great genre film, Drive completely embraces its second-hand material and
runs drives with it: it’s all, admittedly, immediately familiar. But like any good work of art it also makes you temporarily forget that you’ve ever seen this stuff before. Every scene contains something unexpected, and good luck predicting what any next shot will be, or how Refn will choose to present things. In other words, you’ll know where it’s all going, but you won’t have any idea how it will actually get there. (And you will never predict a single second of Gosling and Perlman’s eventual confrontation.)
5. Its sheer sensuality: the long, slow dissolves, the mesmerizing aerial shots of L.A. at night. (Michael Mann‘s spirit is haunting this film.)
6. That gorgeous cursive pink font! I’ll confess, by the time the opening credits sequence started, I’d already fallen in love.
7. Its neo-New Wave soundtrack, which I want you to hear so much that I’ve linked to the following tracks at YouTube:
- Kavinsky: “Nightcall“
- Chromatics: “Tick of the Clock“
- Desire: “Under Your Spell“
- College feat. Electric Youth: “A Real Hero” (and how is one supposed to interpret this song in this film? earnestly? ironically? something else entirely?)
Not to mention Riziero Ortolani’s: “Oh My Love,” which is used to pretty spectacular effect. And Cliff Martinez‘s original compositions. (Steven Soderbergh‘s spirit is handling the parts that Michael Mann’s avoiding.)
8. Its R-rating. Extreme violence, gratuitous T&A, filthy language—Drive‘s got it all; it’s an unapologetically male film. And I’ve been really down on “male cinema” as of late (I believe I’m on record somewhere saying, “For the next 100 years, all movies should be made by gay Puerto Rican women”), but this one—well, I’m going to let it pass. The key here is how shockingly bold it all is, not to mention poetic (not to mention well made, and conscious, I think, of what it’s doing).
9. The screenplay, which is admittedly (on a macro- level) the film’s weakest element, but still pretty darn good. The dialogue, for instance, is always well-crafted and telling, and much better than you might at first think. (Pay attention to how people use the word “friend”—they never use it to mean “friend.”)
OK, go see it, let me know what you think. I’ll no doubt write more about it later. For now, though, Drive is easily one of my favorite new films this year.