Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a pro Los Angeles driver for hire, stunt driving for movie productions by day and steering getaway vehicles for armed heists by night. Though a loner by nature, Driver can't help falling in love with his beautiful neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother put in danger after her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from jail - owing protection money to a jail-based gang. After participating in a heist intended to pay off Standard's protection money goes badly wrong, Driver is drawn into a gang war and targeted by associates Bernie and Nino (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). But when he realises that the crims won't want to leave any witnesses, putting Irene and her son at risk, Driver takes the offensive.
Review by Louise Keller:
A gripping heist thriller with a difference, Drive relies on subtleties, surprises and shocks as it keeps the audience engrossed. Based on a book by James Sallis and adapted by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Hossein Amini, the heart of the film relies on the quiet, mysterious nature of the story's protagonist, a man we only know as 'Driver', effectively played by Ryan Gosling. Don't expect wall-to-wall action or incessant screeching of brakes; there are surprisingly few exhilarating driving sequences, although those featured are extremely effective. This is a terrific story of contrasts whose dark undercurrent bubbles ominously throughout. Tenderness is juxtaposed with graphic violence as second chances and relationships signpost a backflip in directions.
A heist plays out in the film's opening sequence in which Gosling's Driver sits at the wheel of the getaway car, showing his considerable skills as he weaves in and out of traffic, down backstreets, side lanes and puts his foot to the pedal when required. He is cool under pressure, as displayed in his occasional role as stunt driver for action films. He can drive: no question about that. Put the kid behind the wheel and there's nothing he can't do, we hear. But there seems to be something more to this quietly spoken man with a gentle demeanour, who thinks before he speaks and chooses his words carefully. Most of the time Driver works as a mechanic for Bryan Cranston's Shannon, whose life also seems to hide scars and secrets - as well as dubious connections.
In his budding friendship with his pretty neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son (Kaden Leos), we get to know Driver as a caring, considerate and undemanding friend. Mulligan is nicely cast as the young mother whose husband (Oscar Isaac) wants to put his second chance to good use. But there are some extremely nasty characters that get in the way, with Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks fleshing them out beautifully - in devastating fashion.
Stylishly shot by Newton Thomas Sigel, who captures the spread out nature of this LA story and astutely directed by Danish-born Nicolas Winding Refn, who shocks by unexpectedly thrusting violence when we least expect it. I like the fact that there are many aspects to the characters, most of all Driver and Gosling masterfully creates a lasting impression.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Given the title and the central characters profession as a driver of fast cars, it is ironic how much filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn uses the brakes in pacing this noirish art house thriller. Silent moment abounds as the audience is invited to contemplate the face of this mysterious antihero; and Ryan Gosling is a surprisingly good choice for this, mostly because of the ambiguity he brings to the role, both physically and emotionally.
The film starts with a fairly traditional establishment sequence (traditional in structure, that is) in which we see who and what Driver is. True to cinematic golden rules, character is action, and Refn paints this portrait with steady hands. We quickly learn that Driver is a calm man of few words, with superlative driving skills. But he remains enigmatic, evidently a drifter since he is a recent tenant at the apartments where he becomes the neighbour to pretty young mum Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her 12 year old son Benicio (Kaden Leos).
Their relationship begins - and continues - tentatively, proscribed by both Irene's married status and by Driver's reluctance to have a relationship. It's as much due to Driver's affection for the boy Benicio that he allows Irene into his emotional space. Not that she is forward, far from it. The scenes between them are all high tension, thanks to Refn's sensitive but determined direction and the excellent performances.
The romantic relationship overlays the thriller drama and compounds it; Driver becomes motivated by it, and the stakes escalate as a result of it. It's a remarkably fluid adaptation from the James Sallis book, and is as edgy as it is layered. We never get to know Driver in any depth, but there are several insights, notably one to his deeply dark side. Yet he is capable of great tenderness, too, and we get a sense of his inner turmoil as he fights his private demons in the hope of overcoming them. He can see a normal life with Irene and Benicio - sometime in the future, but there is a moment when he accepts that that is unlikely to happen.
There are several other elements that make this a fascinating, gripping film, bloody at times, and brutal about human nature. One of those elements is the outstanding score by Cliff Martinez, delivering energy and helping to maintain the film's eerily steady mood and pace. Another is Newton Thomas Sigel's fine cinematography, as stylish as it is accessible.
Each of the supporting cast plays a crucial role - and they all do it exceedingly well. Irene's husband, for example, is a real and complex character, masterfully portrayed by Oscar Isaac (so good as Jose-Ramos Horta in Balibo). He is also well written: out jail, he throws a party, but as well as celebrating his freedom, he articulates his remorse.
Albert Brooks makes a big impression as the criminal businessman Bernie Rose, and it's a masterstroke to have cast Ron Perlman as his bigtime crim associate and financier; Perlman brings a great deal of authority and depth to the role. These two characters carry the tragedy within the screenplay's core, one of the layers that add to the film's satisfaction rating as a work that has creative merit.
Refn won the Best Director award for this work at Cannes 2011, a major trophy and vindication that genre filmmaking is far from artistically inferior; it just needs imagination and talent. (His name may sound familiar to Sydneysider in particular: his 2008 film, Bronson, won the 2009 Sydney Film Prize at the Sydney Film Festival.)
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CAST: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks, James Biberi, Kaden Leos
PRODUCER: Michael Litvak, John Palermo, Marc Platt, Gigi Pritzker, Adam Siegel
DIRECTOR: Nicolas Winding Refn
SCRIPT: Hossein Amini (book by James Sallis)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Newton Thomas Sigel
EDITOR: Mat Newman
MUSIC: Cliff Martinez
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Beth Mickle
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Pinnacle
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 27, 2011