A nameless protagonist is not a regular occurrence in cinemas today, though it would fit right in with the westerns of years ago. In a lot of ways Drive is the new western, with a fresh decal. Stoic leading man, a lot of money at stake, and several bad men waiting to get their hands on it.
Drive has been oft-described as a genre film, and stylistically it is. Nicolas Winding Refn has the same flair for chases, fights, and the type of blood lust that would make one think Quentin Tarantino is being too safe in his older age. The violence is quite stylized though, if your stomach is strong enough to take it.
However, Drive is more character focused where other films like Collateral are about plot. A stuntman by day, getaway driver by night, Gosling's Driver doesn't resemble what most people refer to as an "L.A. Guy". He keeps his mouth shut, does his job, and waits for something to thrill him in the meantime, that is until he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan).
Upon meeting Irene the Driver's life spirals into more hideous acts of brutality than he ever could have anticipated. And having him blend into that world right before her eyes is a shocking experience for her and the audience. He wants love, though we all know he probably won't ever have it.
Michael Mann's Thief and William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. are inspirations, but Drive is more conservative in its focus. Refn lights L.A. up beautifully, there are no slums here. Just neon lights and sun-lit rivers for skipping stones. The long takes don't bring to mind the ADD focus of the Fast and Furious franchise, each second spent lingering tells us everything we need to know. Cliff Martinez's score throbs like a heart beat amped on Red Bull. Often scores find a way to inadvertently tone down chase scenes, but Martinez nails it here.
Gosling may have finally shed his Notebook image with a McQueen strut and corresponding toothpick hanging out of his lip. I don't know if Gosling can sneak into a crowded Best Actor field but, God, would that be something. Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston are cast against type here, but they excel in their respective parts. Ultimately, Drive is a non-starter for the Oscar season, but it is one damn fine film.
***1/2 out of ****