Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaacs
Plot: A getaway driver (Gosling) falls in love with Irene (Mulligan) his neighbour, a connection which brings him head to head with a dangerously violent mob boss (Brooks).
I love the Noir genre. It is my favourite type of film or novel; I get so swept up in this world of anti-heroes, corruptions and tough men down on their luck. However, the Noir genre has its flaws. Cliches are so fundamental to the genre (the untrustworthy femme fatale, the private detective element), that iti s hard to do anything fresh with it. Most modern Noirs are homages rather than anything new. Maybe this is why I like Drive so much. It not only embraces the genre, but it builds on it, giving the genre a fresh lick of paint and a new setting.
For example, despite being Noir, it is a very colourful movie. Rather than going from the dark, murky aesthetics of classics like The Maltese Falcon and Gilda, this movie is filled with bright colours. The protagonist wears white, the background is drenched in pink neon: this movie has a lot of colour and looks god damn beautiful for it. However, the essence of Noir is still there. This is why Refn can take an unconventional Electric-Pop soundtrack and made it sound as though it has been a cornerstone of the genre for years. Its Noir trademarks come from the characters. The hero is mostly a bad guy (he is a career criminal after all), but is redeemed by this sense of honour and the love he has for a girl. He goes to extreme lengths to save the girl and a big part of Drive is his violence and willingness to give up his life for the woman he loves. The Driver is a key Noir hero, despite being stripped off the snappy dialogue and conventional career that most Noir anti-heroes are given. Nicolas Winding Refn’s direction is fantastic here. He is one of the freshest directors around and his unorthodox take on this film makes it memorable and easy to like.
Despite not having many lines, Ryan Gosling is perfect in the role. Maybe we are getting tired of his strong, silent act and Refn’s follow-up, Only God Forgives, definitely pushed this stock character too far. But here, it was fresh and exciting. We only knew Gosling as the hunk in every rom-com of the last three years. I thought he was a good actor, but I had no idea he was in this league. Here, he commands our attention with his stare and we instantly believe that he will kill a man. Carey Mulligan also wins us over, with very few lines. I had heard great things about the actress, but I had never got around to experiencing how good she was for myself. Here, was the first time I saw her perform and, while I believe I haven’t seen the best of Mulligan yet, I totally get why people talk about how amazing she is. She totally captivated the audience in the role of Irene, playing the damsel in distress, but never seeming weak. Like any good Noir character, she is down on her luck, but proudly making the best of a bad situation.
However, Albert Brooks totally blew me away. I love the actor, but I never pegged him down as a threatening villain. He sticks to comedies and while he impressed me in everything he has done, I had no idea he had this side to him. While most comedians suffer in a dramatic role, Brooks leaves his comedy chops behind and we appreciate him all the more for it. His villain is ruthless and totally menacing from the moment he steps on the screen. He works well, because he starts off as a really likeable, nice guy. However, as the film carries on, we see this dark side of him that understands that to stay at the top of his game, he needs to be cut-throat. Therefore, when his attention turns on the heroes of the piece, we instantly get scared and knowing the unpredictable nature of this kind of film, we doubt that there will be a happy ending.
I will understand that a few people will not like this movie. It has such a slow build-up that there is kind of a big emphasis on the ending being amazing. In all honesty, it kind of goes for the quieter climax. There isn’t really a big fight at the end, but a quick tying up of loose ends. I didn’t mind this, but I can see people anticipating this massive finale, egged on by the fact that this film seems to be carefully building up to a terrific ending and that never really comes. I still totally love this movie, but as a reviewer, I feel that readers should be forewarned of a slight anti-climax.
Final Verdict: Winding Refn rewrites the Noir genre with imagination and flair. The most stylish movie of 2011 and probably also the best.