Drive combines several unique stylistic elements and excellent character performances in a rare arthouse thriller which stands among the very best films of 2011.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Pusher Trilogy) and based the book of the same name by James Sallis, the story follows an anonymous central character played by Ryan Gosling, known only as ‘The Driver’. Working as a Hollywood stuntman by day and getaway driver by night, Gosling begins a close friendship with his sweet neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son Benicio, while her husband is away in prison. However their blossoming relationship is brought under threat by a job gone wrong involving small time mobsters Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Pearlman).
Gosling plays the unnamed protagonist to perfection in a reserved performance which slowly reveals the true nature and identity of his character over the duration of the film, exposing a composed, sensitive yet highly explosive figure capable of extreme action when forced by circumstance.
Mulligan is also exceptional as the gentle Irene, conflicted by her devotion to her marriage and her growing feelings toward her protective new love interest, while Bryan Cranston puts in a strong performance as the Drivers manager, mentor and friend.
However the real highlight of Drive is the wonderfully stylish direction by Refn, creating a 1980’s like vintage setting which is perfectly complimented by the atmospheric, synth driven soundtrack, composed by Cliff Martinez.
The late night L.A street shots combined with spontaneous, extreme scenes of violence throughout the film suggest a likeness to a hyper-stylised version of Taxi Driver, a bold comparison perhaps yet a justified one; Gosling seems obsessively consumed within his character, much like Robert De Niro’s disturbingly portrayal of Travis Bickle in the 1976 classic.
Ultimately, the blend of fine character acting, Refn’s slick direction and Martinez’ outstanding soundtrack makes Drive a unique work of art and an instant cult classic. A must see film for this year.