Drive, one of cinema’s smash hits from 2011, is like a bad car crash – you know you shouldn’t really stop to watch, but you just can’t help yourself.
The story revolves round a mysterious young man played by Ryan Gosling (it was only after the film ended that I realised you never actually discover his name, he only being referred to as the ‘kid’ or ‘driver’), a part-time Hollywood stunt driver and full-time crook. However what starts as a lucrative sideline as a getaway driver for hire, soon takes a turn for the worse when he becomes involved with his attractive next-door neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan), whose husband has recently been released from prison and needs some help with a ‘job’. Unfortunately as the job ‘goes down‘ so does everything else in a climax from which no-one escapes unscathed.
Drive looks beautiful. From its lead characters of Gosling and Mulligan who make an achingly cool couple buffed to perfection, to its costumes, you want to be a part of it: I found myself lusting after ‘Driver’’s cream satin bomber jacket, though it would be a curse to remove blood stains from (doesn’t he know that if you wear white or cream in thrillers it inevitable ends up covered in blood).
Drive is ugly too, and this is unfortunately its overriding trait, stunting and diluting the aforementioned beauty. The film’s languid settings of open freeways, dusty parking-lots, seedy motel rooms and dodgy diners in and around the MacArthur Park area of Los Angeles, shot in pale and muted palates, bely the violence to come serving only as a backdrop to emphasise the blood which frequently engulfs the screen.
There are two types of cinematic thriller. The old style, Hitchcockian kind where killing was normally done with a good, clean bullet. If you did have the misfortune to be at the end of a ‘psycho’’s knife it was usually (and more effectively) off screen. Then you have the Scorsese Goodfellas (1990) school of murder, where you see every blade, pen and crowbar physically hit flesh in vivid, gory detail. Drive is definitely in this league, but worse as you have heads blown off, eyes gouged out with forks, multiple stabbings, a drowning and best (or worst) of all a relentless trampling of one man’s head until you hear the skull splinter (stop already – I think he, and we, have had enough!).
The other problem is the film’s lack of depth, telling next to nothing about the characters or their background’s, which might have made you slightly more sympathetic towards their predicaments. Director Nicolas Winding Refn is quoted as saying that he deliberately didn’t reveal much about ‘Driver’ as he thought this added to his mysterious air – an excuse, if you ask me, that smacks of pretentiousness.
Which is the ultimate impression Drive leaves you with. Like a lot of new art, and ‘Driver’ himself, it is self-assured and beautifully executed. But dig a little deeper and you find very little substance beneath its sharp and vicious surface.