Drive (2011).

D: Nicolas Winding Refn. DP: Newton Thomas Sigel. W: Hossein Amini (based on the book by James Sallis). Starring: Ryan Gosling/Carey Mulligan/Bryan Cranston/Christina Hendricks/Albert Brooks/Oscar Isaac/Ron Pearlman/Kaden Leos.

This fall film season has now seen its first big independent hit with Drive. It’s star, Ryan Gosling, has already been seen this year in the summer comedy, Crazy Stupid Love and has another film, Ides of March, out later this fall. Can you handle the Gosling fever?

Drive rests nearly entirely on Gosling’s shoulders as his turn as the Driver (he’s so mysterious he doesn’t have a name) carries the whole project. Luckily for audiences Gosling’s usual slicked hair, sexy bravado, and goofy grin are coupled with a weighted performance that never reveals all that there is to his character. Rather as the film reaches its crescendo, Gosling pulls back layers and gives the film the strong thread it needs to succeed.

The weight in Gosling also forces the story of Drive to never feel too simple or its construct over stylized. His Driver soon meets Irene (Carey Mulligan) whose literally the girl in the apartment down the hall and befriends her and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos). It only gets complicated when Mulligan’s spouse played by Oscar Isaac turns up later on while Gosling’s stunt driving career (moonlighting as a getaway driver) might lead to a race car driving one. Yet none of these other actors can really pull focus from Gosling, whose bigger picture motivations are never actually revealed or relevant. However, Bryan Cranston makes a nice turn as Gosling’s boss/fellow car junkie.

Stylistically, Drive is the most memorable film of the year so far. It commits to its Los Angeles location and the image of the western lone ranger, now late night driver doing his best to get by and disappear. Even better is the contrasting use of music and silence. This allows the music to be delivered so deliberately that it enhances the visuals its coupled with. And therefore also allows the minutes and sequences without background noise to feel raw and stripped, allowing Gosling’s glove squeaking or the clock of a gun to contribute to a scene rather than be lost in it. This clear visual choices for the film are also in a nice balance with Gosling and the other actors’ performances. Whereas normally scenes might feel underplayed and a bit slow, you instantly forgive that since it is in such stark contrast to the music, the editing, and eventually, the distinct and unforgiving uses of violence.

Ultimately, the most impressive thing about Drive is its clarity of vision and use of style to tell a specific story. Although the scenes of violence might not be for all audiences, they are necessary and integral to the story. And who does not expect a bit of violence in a story about a man who crashes cars for a living? Yes, maybe not this level, but is exactly what Drive is. Nothing you expect and everything you want at the same time. All set to a soundtrack that will be played in cars all fall.

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