R. 100 minutes.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Bryan Cranston.
Released on Blu-ray and DVD today, January 31.
Nicolas Winding Refn is going to be a pretty obscure director to the casual moviegoer. So it might seem a big surprise to people that when Ryan Gosling was given the greenlight to pick any director he wanted that he would choose Refn.
The story goes that back in 2009 Ryan Gosling was in the theater watching a movie called Valhalla Rising, also directed by Refn, and the quiet, detached, artsy movie, Ryan recalled, captivated the audience and made them all very aware that they were watching the movie together. And they were all in the movie together, and then the stunning random intense violence brought the audience even closer together as they all looked around to each other with nervous laughter and uncertainty. Gosling tells the story as a real bonding experience for the whole theater. Then he goes on in the same sitting to tell the story of seeing Avatar the same year. Opening day, big premier – and it’s a huge blockbuster, biggest movie ever made. Bagillion dollar budget, 3D spectacular! And he said it was a dead experience. AND IT IS. I remember seeing Avatar in the theater and I remember seeing Drive in the theater (twice) and they are two different experiences. In Avatar you just get up and leave when it’s done. All throughout Drive you get acquainted with the people in the theater. You bonded over the tension and, yes, even the violence. Which I know sounds strange, but it’s because the violence is so unexpected and brutal that you don’t know what to do, so you shift nervously and look to the person next to you and laugh quietly. So Ryan Gosling’s choice of director was just perfect.
(And please don’t get turned off to the movie, just because of the brutal violence I mentioned. Because it’s not a horror movie or an action movie. It’s really a combination of love story and old school hero’s tale. Or as Ryan Gosling himself puts it it’s like a John Hugh’s movie in a way…just with a face stomping.)
In my opinion Drive is absolutely the best movie of the year. Please don’t fall into the same trap as the lady that tried to sue the producers because Drive wasn’t anything like The Fast and The Furious. That is actually one of the best aspects of the movie. It is NOT an action movie. There are guns and hammers and violence and fancy driving but it is not an action movie. It is a drama and an art movie. The driving isn’t anything flashy, just what is needed for the situation. The movie is incredibly quiet, and a lot of the movie is in the unspoken tension and romance brewing between Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. And upon first watching you might not really understand the need for the silence in the movie, but when you see the relationship that has grown between Gosling and Mulligan you realize that any dialogue could have only ruined what was being built between them.
The whole movie has such a vibe to it. A little bit of an 80s feeling to it. And each song in the soundtrack just puts you in this mood, this trance and it fits so well with the movie. And right from the start you know this is going to be different from any movie you’ve seen in a long time, maybe even ever. But what I love the most about this movie is that it is a True Hero’s Tale. They don’t make that anymore in movies. Almost like an old western. And it pays homage to that in many ways.
But first allow me a slight detour because I want to tell you about the movie’s plot. So remember this thought and we’ll get right back to it.
The story is simple, something else that is lost in movies these days; the plot is simple but the characters are complex. We have the Driver (Ryan Gosling) — by day, a Hollywood stunt driver, and by night, a getaway driver. He has simple rules: you get five minutes of his time, no more no less; anything goes down in that five minutes and he is contracted to that job. But that is it — one minute on either side and he is gone. He doesn’t help plan the heist and he doesn’t carry a gun. Easy as that. He never stays anywhere long, and in his current apartment he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son and instantly forms a bond with them. Quickly he finds out that her husband, named Standard, is in jail and getting released soon — and the instant he’s back in the picture his past is catching up to him and the thugs he was once involved with start to threaten him and his family. The Driver agrees to help Standard out if it, meaning that no one ever comes near Irene or her son ever again. But nothing is ever that easy, and the next thing you know the Driver is in way over his head, surrounded by dead bodies and stuck with over a million dollars that he doesn’t want and everyone else is after. And the thugs won’t stop coming after Irene. And this pushes him into the world he worked so hard to try and avoid. How do you get out of an underworld so deep when there is no end in sight?
And yes, believe it or not, this is not an action movie.
So back to the True Hero’s Tale. Just like we have Clint Eastwood in his trilogy as ‘The man with no name” or Charles Bronson in Once Upon A Time in The West just simply known as ‘Harmonica’ — we have Ryan Gosling as the Driver. That’s all we know him as. He comes onto the scene just as mysteriously as the rest in the old westerns. And (no pun intended) he is driven, not by fame, or money, or greed or power, but rather just love. His goal above all goals is to keep Irene and her son safe. Compared to this a million dollars means nothing. The Hero’s Tale. Doing what is right for the sake of what is right. Even if it takes you into places you never wanted to go and do things you’ve tried to avoid. But your goal is too important and failure is not an option. It doesn’t matter if the hero is outmatched or over their head; they can’t focus on this. He has to accomplish this goal by all means, even if it means crossing over into the darkness until its done.
Hence the violence and face stomping — but how far would you go to save the one you love if you knew the mortal danger that followed them would never quit as long as it could move? What would you do to protect that love? Someone completely innocent of the situation in which they found themselves. Knowing that just knocking someone out and running away won’t do the trick like in all the other movies you see. Because you’ll always be chased. How far would you go? Would you stomp that threat to death in an elevator?
Of course no one wants the hero to be violent and they want him only to escape with minimum incident, but that’s what this movie pushes the boundaries of. What it takes for a man to protect others, what it means to not quit. How far in the darkness would you be willing to go to keep the innocent in the Light. And the movie does it so well that when you leave the movie you feel small, but not in a bad way, you feel like you need to do something great, with the soundtrack’s last lines repeating in your head: ‘You turned out to be a real hero, a real human being.’ And you want to feel like a hero and you need to do something epic. Anything, even if it is just throwing a hot dog at Tiger Woods as he is putting in an important tournament…no seriously, look it up yourself — that guy that threw a hot dog at Tiger Woods did it because he just saw Drive and he knew he had to do something epic right then and there. So he did. It was silly…but it was epic.