2011 – USA
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac, Bryan Cranston, Ron Pearlman, Albert Brooks
Words: J. Senior
It seems surreal to be talking about Drive, now over half a decade on from its original release, as it still feels utterly contemporary and relevant.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s first successful picture stateside (nobody mention Fear X) has gone on to have a transformative effect for all involved in the project, through the director himself to its stars as well. This ultra-stylish and hyper-cool thriller about a stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for bank robberies laid down a serious bench mark in independent film releases, and its influence is still felt today.
The true appeal of Drive is two fold; first of all it’s a stylistic delight and any cinematography enthusiast’s dream, with its neon bold colours and canny use of old film noir effects. The film is instantly recognisable and individual. This is all capped off with a luscious score by composer Cliff Martinez with a few choice tracks by other artists such as M83, Chromatics, Kavinsky and Electric Youth. The coming together of lighting and sound creates such a distinct pallet and an almost dreamlike canvas for events to unfold across.
Secondly, the narrative keeps you on tenterhooks throughout. What begins as a tense and mellow affair soon shifts gears into an ultra-violent and break neck story which transitions from observation to survival via a shootout gone wrong and one pretty grizzly sequence in a lift. This differs greatly from the novel on which it was based, the Driver character in the book is pretty aggressive and violent from the outset, but here Gosling’s character reigns in his dark side and we watch as it slowly seeps out as his lifestyle is confronted by danger.
Drive has acted as a launch pad for all involved, Nicolas Winding Refn has gone on to continue to produce modest budget but stunning films with his two follow ups Only God Forgives, again with Gosling in the lead role and The Neon Demon, which caused walkouts at Cannes and went on to receive rave reviews.
Gosling himself has become a global megastar and cultural icon, which is fairly impressive to say his most famous performance prior to this was The Notebook. He has also transitioned over into the director’s chair and his first film Lost River debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. Carey Mulligan, hot off of twee British coming-of-age tale An Education in 2011, also felt the springboard effect after appearing in Drive and has gone onto huge roles in The Great Gatsby, Inside Llewyn Davis, Far From the Madding Crowd and Suffragette. Oscar Isaac has similarly gone onto great heights and appeared in Star Wars: The Force Awakens as well as turning out as the main villain Apocalypse in the last X-Men film.
All of this has built up to a strong cult following forming around the film. It’s an insanely impressive visual masterpiece, a narrative delight and has such an aura of mystique around it, things which all add up to it being one of the most impressive independent films of the last decade, let alone the last five years. To “do a Drive” and become so well reviewed and beloved is what a lot of similar budgeted films now aim for upon release, in that aspect however it is truly unique. Close runners Nightcrawler by Dan Gilroy and The Guest by Adam Wingard both have that appeal in terms of their visuals and score and they both deal with similar levels of darkness in terms of the narratives, which isn’t to say either of those films are attempts to recreate Drive in anyway, they just cross over onto similar plains and ideas.
Drive still just about edges the competition, and although the team involved all may have gone onto untold successes since, this film is still really the barometer that their careers inevitably fluctuate towards when retrospect is applied. I’m certain as well that in years to come, it will still be just as relevant and will not have lost any of the creative impact from its original release. It’s proving a tough one to beat, even still to this day.