By Michael Kaye
This is gonna be really embarrassing to admit, but I can't hold it any longer: I have never seen a single film from director Nicholas Winding Refn's filmography. I know, I know, I should just surrender my film geek card now and go off the grid, but better late than never, right? Besides, with Neon Demon opening this weekend, it doesn't exactly feel like a movie I should walk into cold. There's a pretty big editorial I have planned for that movie, so I figured it was best to get to know the director first, or at least a small sample of his filmography. And what better place to start than the cult classic Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks.
Here's the story, based on the novel of the same name by James Sallis. A mysterious Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver seems to be trying to escape his shady past as he falls for his neighbor, whose husband is in prison and who's looking after her child alone. Meanwhile, his garage mechanic boss is trying to set up a race team using gangland money, which implicates our driver as he is to be used as the race team's main driver. Our hero gets more than he bargained for when he meets the man who is married to the woman he loves.
Yeah, that was definitely worth the wait! I seriously can't believe it's taken me this long to finally sit down and watch it, and considering everything that's in this movie, there's not a single good excuse I can think of for my procrastination. Here are some of the highlights.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, let's talk about Nicholas Winding Refn as a director. This is one of those rare occasions where he didn't also write the screenplay, so I can't say for sure if this is the best representation of his style, but as a big fan of crime dramas, I really like what he's done here. Between this movie and Adam Wingard's The Guest, we're seeing some great homages to 80's action thrillers coming from the independent scene, which must make legends like John Carpenter so proud. What makes this a great first Refn film is the accessibility of everything, from the genre to the cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel, better known for his work with Bryan Singer on films like The Usual Suspects and the X-Men franchise.
Speaking of the screenplay, Hossein Amini did a fantastic job adapting this story. It was engaging from start to finish, and I really liked the energy Refn injected into the story. At no point did I find the story to be predictable, and even when I thought I knew what was going on, the film was always one step ahead of me. For example, something felt a little off about Nino, and I wasn't quite sure where his character was going until it was revealed he was the mastermind behind everything. What I loved the most was that there wasn't a whole lot of exposition throughout this movie. Most of what we learn about these characters comes naturally through their actions and motivations.
On that note, we can finally talk about the cast, which is yet another reason I should be ashamed to have blown this movie off for so long. I don't think many people really knew how great Ryan Gosling was an actor before this movie, as most people probably still only know him from The Notebook, which does not look so good for your reputation. But then you see him in this movie, where his performances mostly consists of violent action and very subdued dialogue. As for his supporting, it's pretty much a who's who of all my favorite character actors, such as Bryan Cranston, Ron Pearlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, Carey Mulligan and various others. Brooks has surprisingly great range, as I just saw both Finding Nemo and Finding Dory last weekend, where he plays Marlon. To go from a family friendly voice role as a clown fish to a Jewish mobster is damn impressive. Casting Perlman as Nino just makes perfect sense, as does Oscar Isaac's casting as Standard Gabriel.
A small nitpick I have goes to the trailers for this film, which tried to market this as a Fast and the Furious knock-off, which just doesn't do this movie justice. Don't get me wrong, there are one or two great car chase scenes, and while this isn't classified as an action film, there's plenty of brutally violent action to satisfy hardcore fans of the genre. Still, this is the gold standard for how NOT to advertise a movie.
Finally, the music composed by Cliff Martinez is awesome. Fun fact, did you know he was the original drummer for Red Hot Chili Peppers? He was even inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 as a member of the band and performed with them live for the first time in 26 years. But I digress, his music here is incredible, building the right amount of tension when it's needed, as well as simply adding to the 80's throwback vibe of the film. Other songs on the soundtrack such as "Under Your Spell" by Desire and "A Real Hero" by College featuring Electric Youth were catchy as hell and fit perfectly into the film.
Drive is quite possibly one of the best films of the 21st Century. It hit all the right notes for me, between the amazing cast, fantastic direction, gorgeous cinematography and an awesome soundtrack. I'm so glad I can finally cross this movie off my ever growing list, and I hope those of you who also have yet to see Drive do so ASAP!
Now it's your turn! Have you seen Drive, and if so what are your thoughts? Also, what are your favorite 80's throwback films? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, where we continue exploring Nicholas Winding Refn's filmography with a very polarizing film, Only God Forgives!