The wheel deal
PEOPLE who know film will immediately recognise the stylistic influences at work in Drive – particularly the spartan spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and the sleek crime opuses of Michael Mann – but will also appreciate the uncommon assurance and original flair with which they have been applied.
All the evidence can be found in this film’s masterful opening scenes.
Ryan Gosling ( pictured) plays a character known only as Driver. He is parked on the kerb of a grubby Los Angeles back street, waiting to assist a pair of burglars with their getaway.
The police arrive as the trio is leaving. The fuzz have a fleet of pursuit vehicles on the ground and a chopper circling overhead. What will Driver do? Not what you’re expecting, that’s for sure. Instead of burning some rubber and barrelling through red lights and busy intersections, Driver plays it cool.
At times, he stops his vehicle completely. At other times, he stays well beneath the speed limit, occasionally switching his headlights on or off. In minutes the cops are left for dead, even though Driver and his passengers remain right under their very noses.
This introductory sequence is one of the finest stretches of filmmaking you will encounter in 2011. It establishes the eerie calm and psychological resolve that will carry Driver throughout the picture.
It also draws attention to the uncommonly gifted direction of Nicolas Winding Refn, a Danish filmmaker whose command of rhythm and mood during Drive is as intimidating as it is irresistible.
As the movie opens up to let us chisel away at the stony facade of Driver – Gosling plays him with a stoicism that recalls Clint Eastwood and Steve Mcqueen in their prime – there are other mysteries afoot.
His platonic relationship with a lonely neighbour ( Carey Mulligan) and her young son only serves to remove further pieces from the puzzle.
Then there’s the curious influence wielded by Driver’s long- time boss and father figure Shannon ( Bryan Cranston), who seems to have kept his young friend gainfully and disdainfully employed.
Shannon’s uncomfortable association with two local mobsters ( Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, both cast to perfection) blurs an already hazy road ahead for Driver.
There can be no denying Drive presents paying passengers with one incredible ride. With both hands on the wheel and the pedal pressed flat to the floor, this brilliant, focused thriller proceeds swiftly towards true cinematic greatness.
En route, the movie swerves, brakes, speeds up and slows down with astonishing precision.
You will be hanging on for dear life and yet hoping the journey never ends. Best of all, once the closing credits roll, nothing has been left in the tank.
Drive is one of the best films you will see this year.