I Am The Driver
I have to admit I haven't been much of a Ryan Gosling fan, but two back to back movies of his hitting the theatres simultaneously here have changed my mind, both being very different films that Gosling nailed his leading characters to a T. With The Ides of March, his character was a cocksure schemer who had to compromise his morals and principles to stay ahead of the game, and in Drive, he plays the archetypal strong, silent and man of few words type, hiding a more explosive self deep within, ready to be released at the shortest of notices.
There are many films of late that has that fast car component, from The Fast & The Furious and Transporter franchises, to Faster with Dwayne Johnson as a tough guy and Nicholas Cage as an undead in Drive Angry. Drive is a different take altogether, more Transporter in the way Gosling's stunt car Driver operates with his rules for any side, clandestine jobs he undertakes, being the best of the best in what he does, although less flashy and sans fancy martial arts moves and packing a default gun. But that doesn't make his character any meeker than he looks, with a violent pent up nature well hidden from his gentle, hardworking demeanour, ready to unleash hell on his unsuspecting opponents.
If you haven't heard of director Nicolas Winding Refn, perhaps it is time to sit up and take notice, especially since the director's works have not hit the local screens until now, with films like the Pusher franchise, and Bronson being critically acclaimed. He brought about both style and substance in what would be a rather moody film, with characters speaking less and showing a lot more through their nuances and acting, which Gosling aces and made his driver character all the more appealing. The opening heist scene will set the tone on what you the viewer will come to expect, totally going off in a different tangent from what the usual cookie cutter scene will be - noisy and almost always complete with reckless crashes, for what would be an extremely smart and stealthy getaway relying on street smarts, logic and plenty of driving know-how. In other words, a thinking man's film that's filled with plenty of emotions later on.
Based on a book by James Sallis and adapted for the screen by Hossein Amini, who was also responsible for films like Shanghai and Killshot, the story has the Driver getting caught up with the affairs of his married neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos), with a promising romance rudely interrupted with Irene's husband, an ex-convict, being threatened by gangsters to get involved in the robbing of a pawnshop. Things of course don't go as planned and the Driver takes it upon himself to protect the innocent people he is in love with from any potential harm, even if it means sacrificing relationships he holds dearly and a budding hope of carving out a career in car racing.
What made this film such a stand out from its genre peers, is how Refn crafted a film based on extremely gorgeous cinematography and having to say a lot more with less. I'm absolutely taken in by how beautiful every shot looked, coupled with an excellent soulful soundtrack that fit perfectly into the film, as well as the heartfelt performances by Gosling and Mulligan, even if the latter is somewhat reduced to a damsel in distress. There were many scenes that stood out so well you'd want to freeze frame those moments to adore its play with light and shadow, and credit goes to cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel for having every shot in picturesque fashion.
Then there's the explosive turn from the midway point which threw all the hope the characters had built up out of the window, and where the violence got amplified. From the silent nature that the Driver had exuded so far, it gave way to careening violence and gore when he goes on a one man protective rampage to want to make things right again, with villains being forced to a corner, and essentially having both sides show hand just how extreme each side can get when it boiled down to self-preservation, with everyone sent down a spiral of never ending violence with all to lose. Here Gosling shines in his one man army role without being over the top, with his intense gaze mesmerizing all on screen and always threatening to go over the edge, which he does with loved ones under threat.
It's an extremely romantic story at heart as well as a film based on technical brilliance punctuated with well delivered performances from its cast, with Refn at the top of his game making you feel for and getting involved with the characters and plot. An excellent film all round and one that will go into my shortlist as one of the best this year. Highly recommended!