If the trailers were to believed, and they so rarely are, Winding Refn’s English debut is an offshoot of the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise. Quick cuts, slickly shot car chases and Ryan “Where the Hell Was I when this guy became the -it guy- heartthrob” Gosling all in two minutes of schlocky silliness. I knew on first view of this (ironically) pedestrian trailer that this film would either be hyperterrible, or that the poor trailer editors were so desperate for scenes to sell the film that they crammed them all in a short, kinetic mess.
Fortunately, the former was clearly the case, as your casual multiplex denizen is likely to hate this deliberate, haunting picture. The film opens with a deliciously shot sequence, a visceral car-vs-helicopter chase where Refn channels all the best moments from Michael Mann’s MIAMI VICE show. Once the film settles in, we have what amounts to a character drama, the driver-with-no-name balancing between a day job as stunt driver/mechanic while moonlighting as the getaway man for the local underworld. Rather than FURIOUS FIVE, Refn has crafted a unique collision of slick 80s gloss with a Spaghetti Western thread tying the narrative together. The bad guys are delicious – the organized criminals, played by a capable Ron Perlman and a sublime Albert Brooks, add a sense of Semitism to the usual Cosa Nostra semiotic.
The girl next door, played by Carey “She’s also in every movie it seems” Mulligan, provides more narrative impetus. Like all the characters, she’s a mix of archetype and a subverted cliche – she’s got a kid, her Latin partner’s in prison, and she’s drawn to the mysterious stranger who lives quietly in the apartment next door. The film plays with these tropes constantly, undermining expectations at every turn. Expecting the film to go in one direction, it quickly sidesteps casual plot flow at every turn. Violence and cathartic action sequences are doled out so sparingly that they maintain their shock when the explosive moment occurs.
Allusions to the likes of TAXI DRIVER or Walter Hill’s THE DRIVER are not accidental, yet Hossein Amini’s script (based on a book by James Sallis) feels extremely fresh and contemporary, while relishing the world created which reeks of nostalgia. This collision of the now with the then makes for a heck of a fun time for those open to DRIVE’s charms – if you’re open to a cerebral action star that’s more about pensivity instead of pithy rejoinders, you’re in for a treat. Heck, even the fuschia Mistral font on the poster, a horrible throwback to the NIGHT COURT title sequence and a myriad of surf shop logos, is a tounge-in-cheek typophilic reference to the sordid slickness of the 80s.
A mix of Refn’s somber and moody VALHALLA RISING mixed with the kinetic thrills of his PUSHER trilogy, there’s lots to love about this film. While it doesn’t entirely live up to the inverse expectations brought about by the horrid trailer (forgiving the obscene jump in the logic of this argument), DRIVE remains quite a thrilling, enjoyable work.