A Hollywood stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) by day moonlights as a top-notch getaway driver-for-hire in the criminal underworld. He finds himself a target for some of LA's most dangerous men after agreeing to aid the husband of his beautiful neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan). When the job goes dangerously awry, the only way he can keep Irene and her son alive is to do what he does best – drive.
CANNES: Nicholas Winding Refn’s 'neon-noir' heist film Drive winds the speedo back 25 years to honour the spirit of 80s action films, but this fable about fast cars and mob violence isn’t afraid to show its feminine side.
Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver whose double life makes full use of his skills in the field of anonymous heroics. After rolling cars in prosthetic masks all day, Driver jobs as a night-time getaway car driver, providing no-questions-asked navigation to and from crime scenes, with a guaranteed five minutes’ worth of his time, no more, no less.
He’s a man of few words who keeps his temperament in neutral and who has gut instincts better than most. But while his moral compass wouldn’t sync with a factory model GPS, Driver has an innate empathy that extends to an impressionable young boy in search of a hero, and his pretty young mother (Carey Mulligan) who’d quite appreciate the same.
The Danish director of the Pusher trilogy, Bronson, and Valhalla Rising has made mythical antiheroes his stock in trade. Winding Refn doesn’t deal in the business of backstory – information is supplied on a need-to-know basis, and dialogue is as economic as the violence is extreme. So it is with Drive, as the director's aesthetic gels with Hossein Amini's thoughtful adaptation of James Sallis' novella. And this time, Winding Refn’s homage to the 80s Hollywood films he loved as a child (it was his personal form of rebellion against the European intelligentsia mindset of his parents, he jokes), also incorporates a delicate romantic sub-plot that percolates through the smirking flirtations of the two leads.
Think Streets of Fire meets Sixteen Candles and you’re getting close.
The 80s throwback soundtrack from College and The Chromatics provides the synthesised pop pulse beat of the film, in the same way that Winding Refn previously worked The Pet Shop Boys in with Verdi and Puccini for the biopic of self-aggrandising gaolbird Charles Bronson. (It’s fitting that the director and his star cemented their relationship and agreed to make Drive together after bonding over REO Speedwgon’s MOR classic, 'I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore’).
Gosling channels a Steve McQueen vibe with a pensive gaze that he keeps shielded by aviators, but when off the clock from his incognito rat-runs across the LA grid, he sports a flashy satin ’Scorpian’ windcheater, and drives classic Motor City machines.
Winding Refn fills the screen with a consummate cast of support characters, like the underrated Bryan Cranston as a Q-like grease monkey, who chops and channels the custom vehicles for Driver’s after-hours services. And Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman bring unmatched pedigree and malevolence to their archetypal bad guy roles.
Cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel celebrates the beauty of LA’s empty night streets, and editor Matt Newman (Winding Refn’s frequent collaborator) teases suspense and audience jolts out of a pawn store heist, a number of grisly paybacks, and in the chase sequences, of which there are surprisingly few.