In ethos, Drive seems paying homage left, right and centre, with Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, Michael Mann’s Heat and even Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs making palpable repercussions. But somehow it proves these influences harbours deeper resonance in Refn’s vision. It’s a classically structured heist-gone-wrong movie crossed with Los Angeles noir picture, with shades of David Lynch (this Mulholland Drive in stylings, using Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score). In film noir cutting, we get a protagonist/lonely hero drifting around the seedy backstreets of an urbanised, morally decaying city, rubbing elbows with petty crooks, gangsters and criminals. The Driver (played with a near-silent, brooding charisma of Ryan Gosling) is the modern day Raymond Chandler figure – a stunt driver for movies by day and a getaway driver-for-pay by night. He’s far from being morally upright, assisting criminals with a staunch principle: he gives you five minutes, and within those minutes he’s yours. Beyond that, you’re on your own. But he isn’t without grace, he protects purity and that comes in the shape of Carey Mulligan’s Irene, a struggling mother with an ex-con husband.
Drive is far from being flawless, but it is so masterfully directed you’d hardly notice the blotches. Refn’s choice of an 80’s retro theme is a welcome throwback, with scenes that pulse and radiate with a sonic-sound landscape. Most of all, he lets his sequences breathe. The use of slow-motion is quite deliberate, adding dramatic weight to an otherwise superficial stylistic choices. And when it comes to the thrill ride, it’s disciplined and learned – the opening sequence is a lesson in masterclass editing and the car chase scene later on is an ace in stunt, no-CGI driving.
Whilst derivative in surface, Drive emerges as an artfully crafted neo-noir that marries cinematic beauty with raw, gripping violence. What is more, it has the soundtrack of the year and boasts a layered, magnetic turn from Ryan Gosling, officially the coolest guy in cinema this year.