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On Friday, September 16th, 2011, visionary auteur Nicolas Winding Refn‘s style was introduced to the mainstream. We also witnessed the birth of the Refn andRyan Gosling partnership that extends to at least one more movie so far (Only God Forgives). Of course I’m referencing Drive, which turns five years old this month. Yes, it’s been five years since this thrilling masterpiece of a crime movie graced our eyeballs.
I don’t throw the term ‘masterpiece’ around liberally, yet Refn earns the description in every frame of this picture. The man possesses a rare ability in the vein of Stanley Kubrick to spell out everything you need to know in the confines of a scene without the use of dialogue to spoon-feed (or regular feed) details to the audience. While doing that, he also gives us a plethora of color and tension, which is not exclusive to Drive but basically his entire filmography.
From the first scene, Refn hooks your attention with what would be a by-the-numbers day-in-the-life type sequence, were it directed by any other. However, the moving parts involved design a more-than-cohesive introduction. You have the magnetic Ryan Gosling as The Driver calmly driving through the streets of Los Angeles. That utterly brilliant song selection of “Nightcall” by Kavinsky. The bright pink, cursive opening credits. All of it hypnotizes you from the start.
Immediately after, we see what makes The Driver…well…THE Driver. He’s hired by a couple burglars he doesn’t care to know to cart them to a place they’ll rob and then evade the cops on the way out. This sequence is one of the most compelling, suspenseful moments in cinema for me. The only words spoken are tiny phrases like “come on” or “go,” but the stress you feel lives in what’s not said:
The Driver stealing glances back to where the burglars are supposed to be exiting then anxiously checking his watch. The police dispatch radio chatter in the background that allows The Driver to stay ahead of the authorities. The Driver parking under a bridge, turning off the car’s lights, and waiting out the cops’ pursuit, while the burglars hold their breath in the back. He then parks in a nearby parking garage just as a nearby basketball game lets out, disguising himself as another fan in the crowd, and leaving the burglars to fend for themselves, as he said he would. My hands were rightfully clammy this entire “chase.”
Drive delivers further stunning moments outside of its first 15 minutes, but this is an effort to inspire those that haven’t seen this to see it immediately. Even those that have seen Drive, I’d encourage a healthy re-viewing. Not only do you get this quasi-silent, believable, and unconventional romance between The Driver and his neighbor Irene (played by Carey Mulligan), you get a riveting, high-speed, and completely practical chase scene after a robbery goes awry.
Outside of these iconic moments, we’re gifted really memorable supporting performances from a litany of master-class actors. Albert Brooks plays a surprisingly menacing mobster, Bernie Rose, and Ron Perlman is his less-menacing (but still pretty bad) business partner, Nino. Bryan Cranston portrays innocent auto shop owner, Shannon; a departure from the unrelentingly vicious Walter White of Breaking Bad fame. And is that Poe Dameron himself, Oscar Isaac? Yep! Oscar Isaac is Irene’s screw-up criminal baby daddy, Standard Gabriel, and it’s heartbreaking. Lastly, you have Christina Hendricks appearing briefly as Blanche, who is another recurring performer in the Refn-verse (she also appears in The Neon Demon).
Drive remains in my top 10 movies of all-time and with each watch, the content justifies the film’s high standing. The gruesomely violent moments may not be a favorable aspect with everyone, but it’s nonetheless a logical condition of the dangerous world The Driver chooses to participate in. If you’re a through-and-through fan of the art in movie-making, Drive is an absolute requirement. Regardless of the divided feelings on Refn’s latest works, no one currently working in film is an artist like Nicolas Winding Refn.