Like its lead, Drive is a slow burn. Even when participating in a heist both are cool calm and calculated. There is no rush to get anywhere as long as the passenger is secure and safe in the knowledge that they are witnessing a master craftsman perform. After 2008’s Brosnon and 2009’s Valhalla Rising, Nicolas Winding Refn has hit gold in Drive and that is in no small part to Ryan Gosling.
Gosling is magnificent as the unnamed Driver, he says very little but his posture and impassioned eyes scream everything that he doesn’t articulate. Time and time again the camera pauses on him as his face portrays all the emotion that is intentionally missing from his voice. Augmenting his taciturn presence and drawn out silences is the films soundtrack, expertly chosen by Cliff Martinez. Never overpowering or dominating the scene it accompanies. A case of less is more, as with the slow ticking of a watch or the absence of sound completely.
The cars that screech around the vivid landscape are a soundtrack unto themselves. Unlike most high speed chases the only sound is the purr of the engine, the growl of the horsepower and the crunch of the gears as the metal steeds charge headlong into the night.
Permeating the narrative is some shocking acts violence, blood is splattered, arms sliced to the tendons and fingers crushed underneath the heavy blow of a hammer. However when the gore is on show, it, like the rest of the film is stylised to remove any sense of disgust. This is not bloodshed for the shock-factor this is an artist painting his masterpiece, with the superb cast as his pastels. The crunching of a victim’s skull is horrific but when followed with complete silence and then the intruding of the films score into the moment it is hauntingly beautiful. Likewise the sudden explosion of brain matter is memorably rendered across a wall. In fact all the savagery is at odds with the slow and deliberate pace of the rest of the movie making it standout all the more.
This is all for the best as the story lacks a real emotional punch, the central partnership between Gosling and the solemn Carey Mulligan feels rushed and underdeveloped, she makes the most of her time on screen with knowing looks and motherly affection but it is hard to believe such a bond could be formed with so little time spent together and so few words spoken.
Verdict: Drive is one of those films that comes along every so often that places style above substance, that is not to say it lacks a coherent story, just that it is secondary to the dazzling lights and gloomy streets of Los Angeles. The narrative might be somewhat lacking but when it is told this beautifully, who cares?