Monday, 19 September 2011


Having scientifically proven beyond all reasonable doubt that Ryan Gosling is officially The Greatest Human Being Alive Right Now, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Drive is brilliant. Be warned, though: it's not the "action caper" it's occasionally been mismarketed as, and I'd be surprised if it finds much love in a Friday night audience hoping for something to fill a Vin Diesel-sized gap in their lives. Because Danish arthouse director Nicolas Winding Refn has taken the car heist genre and swapped out its engine for a brooding, noir-as-night heart that beats to the rhythm of an achingly hip Eurosynth soundtrack. Fast 6 Furious this is not.
With lengthy scenes of characters sitting in cars waiting or staring at each other in beautifully-shot silence, Drive relies far more on mood and atmosphere than high-speed chases to get under your skin. That's not to say there's no action, because there is, but when it comes it explodes so viscerally from the simmering heat of the pared-down script that it almost leaves you in shock.

And if Refn and Gosling have employed any kind of philosophy to the creation of Drive, it's that less is more: not just in terms of the unexpected bursts of violence but also the dialogue. Gosling's nameless driver only speaks when he has to, lending every word a chilling significance, and the scenes he shares with Carey Mulligan seem to hang in the air while you infer all sorts of meaning from their near-wordless performances. At times you'd be forgiven for thinking you're watching a big screen version of If we don't, remember me, and that's no bad thing.
Hossein Amini's script explores well-worn themes of the darkness within in refreshingly unpredictable fashion, and Refn's visualisation of the light and shade of the characters and situations manifests itself with unfaltering style. Gosling's face is frequently lit from only one side, while his reversible jacket - white on the outside, black on the inside - almost tells his story for him. It would give too much away to describe the fate of the jacket in any detail but rest assured that it's set to take its place alongside Cary Grant's North By Northwest suit and Indiana Jones's leather jacket in the annals of iconic costume design.

Rumbling underneath all this is Cliff Martinez's throbbing score, half heartbeat and half idling engine, perfectly capturing the Los Angeles underbelly setting before occasionally erupting into some of the most perfect '80s-esque electronica this side of Ladytron's greatest hits, and - thanks to one unforgettable tune - questioning what it means to be a real human being, and a real hero.

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