Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Albert Brooks, Ron Pearlman
Words: J. Senior
It seems surreal to be talking about Drive, now over a decade on from its original release, as it still feels utterly contemporary and relevant. Nicolas Winding Refn’s first successful picture stateside went on to have a transformative effect for all involved, 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 laid down a serious benchmark in independent cinema, 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 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 additional 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 over.
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 robbery gone wrong and one pretty grizzly sequence in an elevator. This differs greatly from the novel on which it was based, where the “Driver” is pretty aggressive and violent from the outset, but here we watch the darker side of Gosling’s character slowly seep out as the danger confronting him escalates.
Drive has acted as a launch pad for all involved, Nicolas Winding Refn went 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 but 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, Suffragette and Promising Young Woman. Oscar Isaac has similarly gone onto great heights appearing in Ex Machina, Star Wars and Dune.
All of this has built up a strong cult following around the film. It’s an insanely impressive visual masterpiece, a narrative delight and has such an aura of mystique around it, it has become one of the most impressive independent films of the last decade. To “do a Drive” and become so well reviewed and beloved is what a lot of similar budgeted films aim for upon release, in that aspect however it is truly unique. Close runners Nightcrawler by Dan Gilroy and The Guest from Adam Wingard both have that appeal in terms of their visuals and score and they both deal with similar levels of darkness in their narratives.
Drive still edges out 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, just as we now look back over a decade on, it will still be just as relevant and will not have lost any of the creative impact since its original release. It’s proving a tough one to beat, even still to this day.