Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
The life and psyche of a solitary, nameless man—stunt driver for the movies by day and getaway driver for hire by nights—begin to unravel when he becomes drawn to the woman who lives next door.
Ryan Gosling should be careful. If he doesn’t start making superhero movies soon, people might think he’s an actual actor and everything. Having impressed in a series of indie movies, happily skirting the borders of fame for years, Gosling seems to have finally caught everyone’s eye with this Cannes favourite. Which is odd because he has done a lot better.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest has won over many a critic with his stylish, deliberate exercise in cool. And there’s certainly no doubting the panache and gloss of Driver, which is more than accomplished visually. Refn clearly seems to have a particular time and place in cinema on his mind and with its retro soundtrack, sharp L.A. exteriors and central male enigma, Driver is more than a little reminiscent of 1980s Paul Schrader.
However, scratch beneath the surface of Driver and there is very little substance to find. In fact, it turns out to be a slow, pensive character study of a man seemingly without a character. Quite the challenge. The nameless driver is a strangely aimless, taciturn figure, almost to the point of being a vacuum. Occasionally he says something, every now and then he even smiles, but it is only toward the end, when his beguiling relationship with neighbour Irene and her son leads to tragedy, that the driver begins to show not just his true colours, but any colours at all. It’s a long wait.
It’s somewhat difficult to understand who Drive is aimed at. Fans of the usual car-based action movies such as The Fast and the Furious, or indeed the video games that many will find the movie resembling, could be disappointed by the paucity of actual driving scenes, although when they come they are impressively executed. On the flip side, lovers of more cerebral fare may find even their patience tested by the long silences and moments of sombre inactivity.
Performances are almost all-round excellent, as far as they are allowed to go. Mulligan is quietly affecting as Irene and Cranston stands out as the driver’s boss and sponsor, Shannon. There is also a pleasing turn from Ron Perlman. The usually excellent Gosling, however, has centre stage and underplays it all a little too much. You neither like the driver nor dislike him, neither empathise nor really criticise (except perhaps toward the end when he finally snaps). There is simply nothing to work with in a character this banal. He’s like Rain Man but without the mumbling and amusing facts about air travel.
With some flashes of brilliance, there is an exceptional movie trapped somewhere in Drive but, ironically, drive is exactly what the end result is missing.