Cannes 2011 Review: Nicolas Winding Refn's Badass New Film 'Drive'
by Alex Billington
May 20, 2011
Any cinephile knows it's rare to come across a film so incredible that they would happily watch it again immediately after seeing it for the first time, not to mention endless times over again on DVD. But I will thankfully say that Drive is one of those rare films, which I was lucky enough to catch as my final film in Cannes. Drive is the latest collaboration between actor Ryan Gosling and Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, that not only played in competition at Cannes (an impressive feat), but is one of the few films I could potentially call flawless. It is indeed that good and I do want to see it again immediately.
The plot is fairly straightforward which is what makes this such a smooth ride. Gosling plays the 'driver', a quiet, reserved, but inherently badass mechanic/stuntman who occasionally works as a 'wheelman' - the getaway driver - for heists. The film opens with one of these getaways through downtown LA, but it's not a high speed chase with explosions, as he drives with his brain (or rather his badass leather gloves) staying in darkness to dodge cops, escaping helicopters by hiding under overpasses, and dumping his cargo the moment the Lakers win a game at the Staples center. It's brilliant, exciting and visually exhilarating yet never gets caught up in any Hollywood cliches. I could've seen an entire film about getaways like that, but Refn exits that highway quickly to take the story another route.
Next we meet the adorable Irene, played fantastically as always by Carrie Mulligan, who the driver obviously takes a liking to when he discovers she lives right next to him in the same apartment complex. From there the story begins to progress into some riskier areas, as Irene has a husband in jail, and the driver's right-hand man Shannon (played by Bryan Cranston from "Breaking Bad") gets a little too involved with a group of local 'mobsters' that includes the likes of Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks. Hell, the cast alone that Refn has amassed makes this awesome, but I can confirm that everyone checks out - all of them are great, even though it felt like the 'villains' of the story were a bit over-the-top at times.
I've admittedly had a problem with some of Refn's previous films (I hated Valhalla Rising and only admired Tom Hardy in Bronson) but with Drive he proves (again for those that do like him) that he has so much potential for greatness and delivers plenty of that within 100 minutes. Here he applies his style to a story that blends genres and mixes elements from many classic films that Refn obviously has a love for, yet is unique and refreshing and never boring to watch. I really can't think of one scene or one moment during this entire film that I didn't enjoy, except maybe the ending and that's only because I was personally hoping to see something different.
The soundtrack itself is also wonderful (Refn recently said the film was inspired by driving around listening to the radio as well as John Hughes) and works incredibly well at the right moments but is never over done. The way he shot the film, though, is where I'd claim this is truly flawless, as he makes every second count and every single frame stunning to watch. It's gorgeous for such a gritty film. I normally only say that about art house films, but just imagine that kind of visual finesse in a genre film about a getaway driver and you might start to understand how and why this is so re-watchable.
Even though it was the last film I saw in Cannes after a handful of other spectacular movies, Drive is my favorite film out of the 21 I saw at the festival. The entire movie I kept thinking to myself that it's an 'instant classic' and by the end the only word that stood out in my mind was indeed 'flawless.' It may have a few minor dents or scratches along its exterior, but I'm giving this near-masterpiece the edge and rounding up my score, as it deserves a perfect rating. Bravo Nicolas Winding Refn, you've won me over.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 10 out of 10