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Drive is a 2011 American neo noir crime thriller film directed by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, and Albert Brooks. Although Drive shares several characteristics with the similarly-named 1978 Walter Hill car-chase film, The Driver, it is actually adapted from the 2005 James Sallis novel of the same name, with a screenplay by Hossein Amini. Like the book, the film is about a Hollywood stunt performer (played by Gosling) who moonlights as a getaway driver. Prior to its September 2011 release, it had been shown at a number of film festivals. At the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, Drive was praised and received a standing ovation. Winding Refn won the festival's Best Director Award for the film. Reviews from critics have been positive, with many drawing comparisons to work from previous eras. Praise has also been given to Gosling's and Brooks' performances. Winding Refn has said the film was influenced by movies from the '80s. The unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling) lives in a low-rent apartment building and works as a mechanic, stuntman and getaway driver.
Over time, our hero befriends his next door neighbor, a convict's wife named Irene (Carey Mulligan). He especially enjoys spending time with their son, Benicio (Kaden Leos). When her spouse, Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns from prison, he brings a problem along with him. Driver agrees to help out, not knowing that his association will lead to a direct conflict with the East Coast mob and their West Coast equivalent, Nino (Ron Pearlman) and producer turned boss Bernie Ross (Albert Brooks).
Like a cosmic link to the direct-to-video efforts of the '80s, Drive is a B-movie wrapped up in the cloudy musk of some sizable A-list swagger. It's a love letter to Los Angeles and the genre-defining works that have emanated from its dream factory. It's pretense piled on top of payoff, gravitas given flight with the inclusion of brilliant acting and sudden, shocking gore. Since Refn is no stranger to viciousness, the blood drenched bits are not all that surprising. What is amazing is how, by carefully controlling all the cinematic elements -- performance, plot, pacing, production design -- the foreigner redefines the American Crime drama.
Refn's reverent approach, a combination of scholarship and sacrilege, is aided by some amazing casting decisions. Few would find Albert Brooks menacing, and yet his Bernie Rose is unbelievably bad-ass. During the last act, when words give way to violence, the former funny man exhibits some sizeable menace. Similarly, Gosling goes for the slowburn silent simmer, and you can practically feel the heat. You just know that if and when he explodes, the body count will be high. Surrounding them is able work by Mulligan, Cranston, and Pearlman, all given a chance to add their own unique angle to the plot.
But Refn is the real star. His detailed artistic choices -- '80s retro synth pop on the soundtrack, Driver's moldy satin scorpion jacket -- mesh effortlessly with the needs of the narrative, creating a universe unto itself. While we recognize the setting, what goes on inside is pure pulp madness. Even better, we never quite know what's going to happen next. The story suggests one thing, but Refn makes sure to never follow the formula. The result is a sly September surprise, a bit of near greatness in all the gunk. For a movie as crooked as its characters, Drive ends up a straight-ahead thrill ride.
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