Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 masterpiece may be one of the most misunderstood gems of the year. Rather than opting for a simple take off on the Ryan O’Neal classic heist film, he instead focuses in on the consequences of the choices made by criminals and the deeply meditative state of life that can ultimately be a reflection of the crimes we commit throughout our years. “Drive” feels almost like that lost jewel of the late seventies and early eighties, a film that focuses solely on the aftermath of crime rather than the crime itself and zeroes in on a sole individual whose own choices have come back to haunt him and ultimately put him in a position where he must seek redemption before the evil corrupts the only good in his life.
Refn’s “Drive” is a divine crime drama and one that more often than not pays attention to the humanity of the characters, all of whom coast through a world filled with pain and misery. Ryan Gosling plays a man simply known as Driver, an enigmatic and soft spoken gentleman who, whether he knows it or not, is a black hole in the life of the girl next door Irene (played by the almost sentient Carey Mulligan) whom he harbors a love for from a distance. When he manages to insinuate himself in to the life of Irene and her son, he’s instantly charmed by their affection but soon meets Irene’s ex-husband, another poison in Irene’s waters who threatens to destroy their innocence in the face of old debts that are rapidly deteriorating the safety of Irene’s son. What culminates from a simple decision involving the ends justifying the means ultimately results in a botched heist that spirals out of control faster than Driver can speed his hot rod through the streets of Hollywood.
“Drive” is a deeply contemplative tale of a man struggling to maintain the fragile innocence of the two best people in his life, and Refn never shies away from the horrors and unflinching violence of Driver’s struggles to stay alive and maintain the safety of Irene and her only son in the process. Refn features some truly grotesque displays of carnage and torture and demands stark and disturbing performances from the likes of Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks, the latter of which turns in a horrifying turn as a man willing to do whatever it takes to maintain his standard of living, no matter who is caught in the crossfire. Fans of Brooks will be disturbed by the turn the actor takes as the villain. Gosling is one of the greatest actors of the modern film era, and provides a truly breathtaking portrayal of a character who can barely keep up with the evil plaguing his life and must rely on his wits after the fall out of his ultimate scheme to end his life of crime once and for all.
Driver is a likable but utterly tainted individual who poisons those around him. It’s only after he’s lost all sense of his bearings when he finally realizes that perhaps life would be much better without him. But like “Two Lane Blacktop,” 2011’s “Drive” is not about the cars or the action, but the zen like relationship we have with automobiles, especially Driver of all people featured in this cinematic venturing. There are moments of deep meditation and contemplation that fuel this tale of redemption that just hit like a fist to the gut. This isn’t a movie about action, it’s a movie about fate, coincidence, and penance before the clock runs out. This is a film for the cineastes. Director Refn’s “Drive” is a pure masterpiece of redemption and consequence, a truly involving and artistic crime drama that places true emphases on character and depth rather than on clunky action set pieces. Gosling has more than proven to be a capable performer, and “Drive” is one of his banner films.