Film Review: Drive (2011)

A man waits silently at the wheel of a silver Impala late at night, the sound of local police dispatch playing faintly over a small, hand-held radio. The light from the dashboard illuminates his expressionless demeanor, and we understand that he is, if nothing else, a complete professional. 

The intruder-alarm of a nearby building begins wailing, and dispatch promptly alerts the patrol cars of it. The man behind the wheel calmly turns on his car’s stereo to listen to the end of the Clippers game he had been watching in his apartment prior to the job. Two masked figures emerge from the same building with duffel bags and get in the car, and the trio peel off into the city. With police dispatch notifying officers of his car’s make and model, the driver calmly evades patrol cars in a game of cat-and-mouse while the game plays itself out.  

Our cool-under-pressure-hero in the driver’s seat, never actually named in the script and listed in the credits as only ‘Driver,’ is played by Ryan Gosling. During the day, Driver works both as a car mechanic and a Hollywood stunt driver, and appropriately moonlights as a for-hire criminal getaway driver. All his jobs are managed by his talkative friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston). 

After multiple chance meetings with a pretty neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan), Driver begins to form bonds with her and her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos). Despite their common knowledge of Irene’s jailbird husband Standard (Oscar Isaac), Driver and Irene begin to fall for each other… that is, until Standard gets abruptly released and returns home. 

Standard is a bit behind on paying some nasty people back. Consequently, he gets his shit rocked by some goons and his family put in harm’s way not long after his return home. Despite his general distaste for Standard, Driver decides to offer his services for a heist to him in the hopes he can help keep Irene and Benicio out of harm’s way. 

Despite the attractive synopsis, I have to admit that I didn’t care for Drive much upon first viewing: I found it slow and boring. And yet, there was still something that intrigued me about it enough to warrant a rewatch. What seems to have been the issue with my first viewing was expectations — despite its marketing as an ‘action movie,’ this is first and foremost a patient character-drama. If you watch Drive looking for a purely fun, popcorn-munching time or another Fast and Furious, you won’t get it here… and that’s absolutely to the film’s benefit. 

One of the biggest things Drive has going for it is its stylistic sensibility. A pulsing and synth-heavy soundtrack plays over vibrant, moody shots of the neon LA nightlife throughout. This gives the film a somewhat arthouse, neo-noir atmosphere that compliments the tone of the narrative. Still, Drive never relies solely on its aesthetic quality to make it a good film.  

At its thematic and emotional core, Drive explores avenues related to contemporary heroism. This ties directly into the film’s subversion of the typical action movie; Driver is less an action ‘hero’ than he is just someone trying to be a good person. Regardless, it becomes apparent to both him and the audience that sometimes heroism isn’t about saving the day and having the happy or ideal ending, but about making the necessary sacrifices for those you love when it matters most. 

And who better to deliver such a complex character than Gosling? Driver doesn’t have a whole lot to say (or, for that matter, a whole lot of surface emotion to show) and yet at any given time we know exactly what’s going through his head. Such a contained performance like this could have come across as lazy or underwhelming, but it manages instead to communicate so much with so little. As such, it delivers both nuance and depth.

Drive is an excellent modern look at where true heroism lies, and what one must do to truly be heroic. These themes are complimented ever so well with hyper-stylization in the visuals and soundtrack, turning what could’ve been a straightforward action movie into a gem of arthouse action instead.

Overall rating: 9/10

Published by Jeremy Bader

Aspiring writer, film and music lover, drummer.

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