Ryan Gosling is enjoying a meteoric rise thanks to some brilliant performances in the last year. February saw the UK release of Blue Valentine for which Gosling deserved but didn’t receive an Oscar nomination. This week sees him as an uber-confident pick up artist in Crazy, Stupid, Love but it’s Drive that’s really going to launch him into the big time.
He plays the enigmatic and unnamed Driver, a no-nonsense, no-questions-asked Hollywood stunt man who moonlights as a getaway driver for heists overseen by his friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston). He has one caveat: he gives them five minutes to complete their heist. When the time’s up, he’ll be gone whether they’re in the car or not.
He lives alone and hardly speaks but his life is disrupted when a beautiful woman called Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son move in next door But just as the two are taking tentative steps toward beginning a relationship, Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from jail.
Driver agrees to help him pay off the debt he owes to a local gangster by agreeing to drive during a pawn shop robbery but inevitably the job goes badly wrong and he has to contend with mob boss Nino (Ron Perlman) and his partner Bernie (Albert Brooks), both of whom have some connection to Shannon.
Drive is the coolest film of the year. Ryan Gosling barely says a word. He’s constantly chewing a toothpick (a reference to The Man With No Name’s cheroot – Driver owes a lot to westerns) and he’s probably the only person who could make a white satin jacket with a gold scorpion emblazoned on the back paired with leather driving gloves look cool.
There’s strong support from Christina Hendricks as a heist accomplice – her ghostly white face a mask of pure terror as the job goes from bad to worse. Ron Perlman is, as usual, a physical presence and gets the best line of the movie but it’s Albert Brooks who steals the show as uncompromisingly savage businessman Bernie. It’s a shocking and disturbing turn as Brooks is usually known for his comedy roles – here he’s channelling Gene Hackman’s Little Bill Daggett from Unforgiven.
Director Nicholas Winding Refn, known for his Pusher Trilogy and last year’s Viking tone poem Valhalla Rising not only has a superb eye for aesthetics but orchestrates some thrilling sequences including a heart-pumping car chase and an excruciatingly tense opening scene.
Together with his cinematographer Thomas Sigel, there are some achingly beautiful shots of the Californian nocturnal skyline which recall Michael Mann’s polished Collateral – glossy twinkling lights in a sea of shiny darkness; crisp neon lighting reflected in rippling black puddles; warm orange streetlights bathing leather interiors. But this intense beauty is like the chrome on a gun barrel and lies in stark contrast to the visceral and breathless bouts of sporadic violence which pepper the film like buckshot.
There’s also a brilliant 80s infused soundtrack which pulses away in the background like a synth heartbeat – without doubt the best of the year. Drive is a perfectly controlled and orchestrated neo-noir heist movie drenched in so much style that it hurts. What’s cooler than being cool? Ryan Gosling.