It’s that time of year during the movie season where we start seeing the movies that will vie as contenders come Oscar time. This is the time of year where we leave the summer blockbusters in the past as we get more inventive, less mass marketed movies. Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, is one of the first movies in this contender category.
Drive is being billed as a car-chase fueled action movie. While it does have momentary snippets of action, it really isn’t an action movie by conventional standards. If you saw George Clooney’s The American then you know a bit more what to expect. Drive is a little faster paced, but in essence it’s The American with cars.
There aren’t many movies like Drive out there, because most of them aren’t brave enough to venture into this kind of territory. Movies nowadays are packed full with as much climactic action as possible. There are no lulls or breaks. Instead viewers are flung head first into a melee of flying fists, exploding cars, and whizzing bullets. Rarely do we know where any of the characters exist within the geographical space provided. That isn’t important to those types of filmmakers. What is important is throwing up as much shaky-cam action on the screen as humanly possible.
That’s why when a director like Nicolas Winding Refn comes along you cherish what he’s able to put together. Refn builds unbelievable suspense with lulls in the action. He knows that it isn’t the constant visual and audial assault that entertains, rather a well told story that knows when to push back and knows when to go for the jugular.
Known only as Driver, in the credits, Ryan Gosling plays a soft-spoken stunt driver who doubles as a getaway driver for L.A.’s nefarious criminals. He’s got a strict set of rules, but if you follow them he’ll almost assuredly get you to where you need to be while evading the cops. The opening scenes, involving Driver picking up a couple of guys after a big heist, are tension builders. Here’s a movie that understands that simply going faster than the cops isn’t enough. You’ve got to outwit them, and usually that means darting into dark alleys and parking under overpasses to lose them. It’s a far cry from a Michael Bay car chase which would have destroyed three city blocks and killed countless innocent bystanders.
We don’t ever really know what the driving force behind Driver’s actions is. He’s a calm, collected man, who seems to have appeared out of nowhere. No backstory is offered, because none is needed. He’s more interesting as this mysterious force. Is he good, bad, something else? It’s hard to tell.
Driver soon meets a woman that lives down the hall in an apartment building he just moved into. Her name is Irene (Carey Mulligan). She’s a nice girl, with a young son, and a husband who’s due to get out of jail any day now. Driver becomes attached to her and her son. A man, who previously seemed to have nothing but driving, now has something else to live for, but when they’re threatened he bursts into action.
Drive understands that a true climactic feeling only comes from well-placed moments of tension and suspense. That’s what sets Drive apart from your run-of-the-mill revenge thrillers. Refn masterfully forms a suspenseful feeling with his lingering scenes and his thumping electronica soundtrack which calls forth reminiscing of 80s action movies. At times Drive can actually be sweet and charming, and then the next second, brutal and violent. Gosling is a chameleon actor. He embodies each role no matter how varied they are. Drive is certainly one of the year’s first Oscar contenders.