On first glance, with its Risky Business title font and throwback ’80s soundtrack, Drive comes across all self-consciously retro. But it’s very much set in modern-day LA, reminding you of recent treads through the City of Angels (notably Michael Mann’s Collateral and Denzel Washington’s Oscar winning Training Day). Everything from the aerial cinematography, the sense of urban discombobulation, the use of neon, streetlights and the endless criss-cross and mish-mash of LA intersections makes Drive the most stylish, stylised and just plain cool movies of the year. And did I mention the brilliant new-retro electronic soundtrack featuring Kavinsky and Chromatics?
Based on a 2005 novel by James Sallis, Ryan Gosling (careering towards A-list status with a performance to match) is the strong, silent and, as it turns out, reluctantly violent type. But he’s oh so good at it. He exists in his own bubble. There is no intimation of back-story, family history or motivation. He doesn’t even have a name. He just stares and broods Clint Eastwood-esque in his inscrutable reticence. A part-time movie stunt driver and mechanic, he exists to drive. Sometime dabbling in the underworld as a getaway driver, but mostly living to serve his appetite for precision driving. He works in Shannon’s (Bryan Cranston) garage and lives next door to Irene (Carey Mulligan). His life starts to veer off at the hairpin when her wayward partner emerges from a stint in prison, in debt up to his neck in tattoos, putting Irene and her son in danger. This prompts Mr Gosling to step in and offer his getaway driving services to protect his, at this point, new-found neighbourly love-interest and the child.
Cue acceleration of this film’s unhurried, almost placid, meditative pace and the proverbially savage machinations of Bernie Rose – the ultimate zenith of this story’s players – as played by actor / comedian / writer / director Albert Brooks. Yes Albert Brooks! It’s almost more threatening having him play the ultra-violent mobster given his past form playing “Mr-Nice-Guys”. Just watch him in 1987’s brilliant Broadcast News and try square with that with his performance in Drive. I guess that’s why they call it acting. But still. Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman have good supporting roles and Carey Mulligan is nicely cast. But it’s Gosling’s world and, ultimately, he serves Nicolas Wending Refn’s steady directorial control of everything from the film’s heightened mood, through to its gripping moments of terror and chase. One of the year’s most enjoyable films. Just watch how you go.