Admittedly, its not for everyone; but the filming, acting, directing, and symbolism are hands-down the best I’ve seen in a long time. I went into the movie thinking it was going to be some “Fast&Furious” spin off, and walked out exclaiming “That was the best movie I’ve seen since ‘Valhalla Rising’!”
This came as no surprise once I got home and found out it was directed by the same guy: Nicolas Winding Refn.
Ryan Gosling also puts out his best performance in years. Good thing, because he pretty much HAD TO considering he spent the vast majority of his screen time completely silent. I mean, aside from a short dialogue in the beginning, the only thing he says for the first half hour is “What floor?”.
The film is a sort of modern fairytale set in Los Angeles, which is fitting because L.A./Hollywood is the birthplace of fairytales in the real world. The movie is meant to polarize the audience, meaning you will either love it or hate it. I happen to love it because it is rich with symbolism and every shot is carefully framed and even exaggerated at times. Let me emphasize that this is NOT an action film. If you are expecting explosions, shootouts, and car chases you will be disappointed. Having said that, there are definitely explosions, shootouts, and car chases; although the action/violence tends to be brief, brutal, and arrived at naturally instead of forced like most Hollywood blockbusters. The sudden action shifts are, of course, intentional; as they are meant to fit in with, and provide a framework for, the theme of contrast. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, in this movie is about contrast: The character, the light, the sound, the colors, and the action shift dramatically from peaceful to violent, dark to light, quiet to loud, and calm to intense. The contrast in lighting is especially evident. Understandably so once you consider that the director is color blind and has trouble differentiating between like-contrast colors. Nicolas Winding Refn uses contrast to highlight the duality of human nature which is both loving and hateful, creative and destructive; and he drives the point home with the personality and development of the main character.
“Driver” (Gosling), the unnamed protagonist who is a mechanic-by-day and getaway driver-by-night, undergoes a dramatic transformation triggered by a heist-gone-wrong that he agreed to in an attempt to protect the innocence of his neighbor; who he develops feelings for during the early to middle part of the film. This transformation is paralleled by the condition of his silver, scorpion embroidered, satin 80’s jacket that gradually gets dirtier as he loses what is left of his own innocence and bloodies his hands both metaphorically and physically. This metaphor is foreshadowed/alluded to relatively early on during a brief interaction with one of the main antagonists:
A mobster named Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) extends his hand in a friendly gesture.
Driver pauses before stating, “My hands are dirty”
to which Bernie responds, “So are mine.”
By the end of the film, Driver’s hands are so dirty, one would be hard pressed to compare him to the Driver presented at the beginning. The culmination of his transformation is symbolized by a mask that Driver dons before killing the other main antagonist, Nino (Ron Perlman), by driving him off the road and forcefully drowning him in the ocean.
Nicolas Winding Refn is known for using brutal violence as a sort of insight into the primal nature of man, and “Drive” is no exception. The director continues to explore this theme, although he directly addresses it more in “Drive” than in some of his other films that offer little explanation for the hyper violent scenes. I say this because there is a specific scene in the latter part of the movie where Driver refers to the story of “The Scorpion and the Frog”, a tale meant to illustrate that some behaviors are simply irrepressible, while on the phone with Bernie. Nicolas Winding Refn is clearly making the comparison between the scorpion and Driver (who wears a scorpion embroidered jacket, mind you), essentially claiming that it is Driver’s nature/human nature to fight back when cornered and/or when loved ones are threatened.
On top of the thoughtful thematic metaphors, Drive is loaded with motifs and meaningful scenes:
-One where Driver is framed with an exit sign in the hallway behind him symbolizing his last chance to walk away and avoid the oncoming conflict.
-Driver’s gloves are a recurring motif representing the violent side of his dual nature. The director calls attention to them on multiple occasions by amplifying the sound they make when Driver moves his hands.
-After killing a man in an elevator, the doors shut between Driver and his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), symbolizing the severance of their relationship and of his connection with innocence.
-At the end, you can see the shadows of Driver and Bernie, which represent the dark side of human nature, engaged in a struggle before Driver emerges on top, physically intact, but only a SHADOW of what he once was.
Despite following a somewhat common plot line (Boy meets girl. Boy tries to protect girl. Boy gets tangled in a web that ultimately drives them apart. Everyone dies.), Drive is not your run-of-the-mill blockbuster. If I had to compare this to another film, I would say it is the exact OPPOSITE of “The 300”. It is carefully thought out and attempts to shed light on human behavior and the nature of relationships. Yes, it does contain some blockbuster elements, but they are sparse too few to appeal to the average 14 year old who thinks “Thor” was the best movie of the summer. That being said, it certainly does hold your attention and the amazing action/violent scenes sort of become the icing on the cake. I would absolutely recommend going to see this movie as long as you know what you are in for. Be prepared for a lot of quiet time separated by lots of synth-pop and the occasional slow motion shot of someone getting their brains blown against a wall. Drive is most enjoyable when watched like an Alfred Hitchcock film. Pay close attention to the framing and background and you will develop much greater insight into the characters and events. I am definitely going back to see it again. I might even take a note pad with me next time.