Monday, September 26, 2011


If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I'm yours no matter what. I don't sit in while you're running it down; I don't carry a gun. I drive.

Drive begins with this brief mantra from the unnamed driver (Ryan Gosling) as he embarks on another criminal endeavor. The getaway driver gig is only part time; he spends his days doing car stunts for films and fixing up cars as a lowly mechanic. A man of few words and fewer friends, the driver nonetheless befriends a young mother (Carey Mulligan) and her son living in his apartment building. She is an innocent caught up in a world that attracts trouble, the kind of trouble that involves bullets and beatings. She needs help. So he helps.

You may think you've seen this film before. In some ways, you have. Images of films like Bullitt, Heat, Taxi Driver, and Eastern Promises all come to mind, as well as the films of Quentin Tarantino (Jeffrey Overstreet makes a strong connection to Disney's recent fairytale Tangled). Drive falls in line with any film where the antihero decides to sacrifice his own selfish pursuits for the sake of a damsel in distress.

On the other hand, this is no Jason Statham film or another entry in the Fast and Furious franchise. Drive has both style and substance; in some ways, its style is its substance. Drive is slow-burning and contemplative, with extended quiet moments between its swift action sequences. Almost a fantasy or fairytale in its tone, director Nicholas Winding Refn has created something beautifully unique from a familiar arc. This is a film where image trumps dialogue; a simple glance between a pair of eyes is infinitely more revealing than any speech or conversation. There are some authentically affecting moments, particularly as the driver interacts with the mother and son. The driver reveals a boyish innocence as he responds to the child, sharing quick smiles on the couch or as he tucks the boy into bed. He's an adolescent, in a way. Despite his darker actions, the driver has a naive purity about him, the idealism of the young.

The driver is both an antihero and a superhero, a man who walks with an almost-comical confidence and cool, whose quiet tone make his few words stand out as assertive and firm. There is little subtlety when the soundtrack begins to pump an '80s-sounding tune with the words "a real human being / and a real hero" as the driver cruises the neon hazy streets of Lost Angeles (As a side note: the soundtrack for Drive is a thrilling mix of thumping electronica and the quiet hums of synths). He has a superhero's sidekick in the form of a good-natured mechanic (Bryan Cranston) who is both his boss and his vehicle supplier. The driver even has a superhero's costume of sorts, donning a classic silver bomber jacket with a scorpion emblemed on the back. That's the kind of man the driver is--he wears bomber jackets and driving gloves and chews on a toothpick and drives cars and protects a woman and child in danger. Perhaps another filmic comparison could be made here--The Dark Knight.

But this isn't a story about vigilante justice or comic-book heroics. This is about an iconic man put in dire circumstances and forced to fight his way out. Drive is not an amoral film, but it holds its morals lightly--this is an R-rated fairytale, and not for the faint-of-heart. The violence is brief but memorable, typically having little in the way of justice involved. There are no police picking up the pieces and chasing the bad guys, no internal or moral struggles with what must be done. The driver is dealing with genuinely bad people, most notably Albert Brooks in a darkly disturbing role as a local mobster. But what is justice here? Do the ends justify the means as the driver uses violence to protect an innocent woman and her child? Where does the downward spiral of violence end? Can violence ever be redemptive?

To this last question, we can respond with quiet affirmation. The Son of God willingly subjected himself to the schemes of violent men, allowing himself to suffer and die as a criminal for the sake of offering new life and grace to humanity. However, it's difficult to find a concrete redemptive message in Drive. I'm unsure there was ever meant to be a clear moral to this story of car chases and neon lights. Yet the beauty of seeing Refn create a marvelous film and Gosling's remarkable performance as the driver are messages in themselves; for if the medium is the message, then Drive sends a message of creativity and style, one that celebrates art itself.

1 comment:

  1. Good review. Your comment about this being an R-rated fairytale reminds me of Hanna. Hanna is a PG-13 fairytale. Also a good film that you should check out, but not as good as Drive.