I saw trailers for Nicolas Winding Refn’s movie Drive appearing regularly on previous cinema trips and I have to say the trailer put me off – it made the film look like yet another sub Fast and the Furious pile of nonsense, all muscle cars, stupid action stars and heist plot. But the reviews were intriguing, not to mention the rather prestigious Cannes plaudits, so I thought despite the awful trailer I’d give it a go this afternoon. I’m glad I did – it’s really not what the trailer suggests; yes, there are fast cars and a crime story in there, but this isn’t some brainless hi-octane racing criminals caper. Ryan Gosling’s character is a mechanic, part time Hollywood stunt driver and making some extra bucks as an exceptional getaway driver for hire. He’s quiet, saying little but watching, thoughtful, but his life becomes more complicated when Carey Mulligan and her son move in next door to his apartment.
I’m not going to go into the plot, which is pretty straightforward and familiar to anyone who’s watched more than a few crime caper flicks, but I will say it eschews the stupid Fast and the Furious type approach the awful trailer suggested to give instead something which is, to me, almost Michael Mann in execution and style. And I rate Mann as one of the most interesting directors around and a man who is almost unsurpassed for painting the urban landscape on film. Refn too conjures up a fantastic urban image, especially the night scenes, the endless roads of Los Angeles seen from Gosling’s car window or from overhead repeatedly, the perfect city for this story, a city with no real heart, where masses live but are isolated in their own homes or on the streets in their cars. The cinematography is beautiful in places – tiny moments like Mulligan being pushed gently back in a lift, her elfin face moving from shadow to light as she is about to be kissed. The still, quiet moments that are suddenly shattered by extreme violence, all the more powerful and shocking for the stillness preceding them. You like Mann, then ignore the trailer, this isn’t throwaway nonsense, this is a beautifully shot piece. Plus, y’now, Ron Perlman, which is never a bad thing either! Only gripe is that Carey Mulligan is a tad underused, mostly there to smile hopefully or be upset at another of life’s blows, which is a shame as she is too good an actress for that.