When I attended Comic Con 2011, I managed to catch early screenings for two films: Drive and the 3D remake of Fright Night. The first of those two I saw was Drive, which is definitely the most of all of the films they were showing around downtown San Diego during the four days of the Con. Believe it or not, this was my most anticipated film to see when I was down there, especially for the fact that it won Best Director at this year's Cannes, and that it came very close to winning the Palme d'Or over The Tree of Life. Before the screening began, director Nicolas Winding Refn along with stars Carey Mulligan and Ron Perlman appeared to give a short introduction to the film and then it began.
Ryan Gosling plays the unnamed protagonist who is a Hollywood stunt driver by day and a getaway driver for criminals at night. His boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston...hell yeah) books him a job with a new shady client named Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), while in the meantime, Gosling's character strikes up a friendship with his single mother neighbor (Carey Mulligan). But her husband (Oscar Isaac) returns home to disrupt their relationship from reaching further heights. He's in trouble to pull off a final job, though, and he recruits Driver to be his getaway driver. And that's the point where the job gets botched and the rest of the film kicks into major overdrive.
This is a very daunting challenge for Ryan Gosling's acting because his character is very silent for most of the film and it's his facial expressions that do most of the acting. However, he does a sensational job as his performance pays a brilliant ode to characters of the neo-noir genre who slowly pace their line delivery and don't even say much which makes the viewer feel more weary of what they'll do when they hit their breaking point. Carey Mulligan drives the emotional strength of this film as her performance is similar to Gosling's with the slow line delivery, but she continues to show that she's one of the strongest female actresses of this current generation in the industry. Bryan Cranston (with hair) and Ron Perlman also manage to deliver commendable performances as well, even though their characters aren't utilized as much as I thought they'd be. Albert Brooks on the other hand, is the real scene stealer of this film. He's mostly known for playing neurotic characters for most films he stars in, but here he gets to play a shady businessman that goes completely insane and slimy when things go wrong. And when things go wrong, boy does he become evil! Be on the lookout for his name to pop up during awards season because his performance is nothing short of brilliant in this film.
Nicolas Winding Refn has officially become the new Tarantino (but without the humor) of today's industry as he directs this film masterfully. Refn builds up moments of unbelievable moments of tension to before these bursts of extremely shocking and bloody violence, which really reminded me of Tarantino's style of doing the same thing in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. In addition, Refn also uses the sudden tone change in a perfect way, especially involving a scene in an elevator with Gosling and Mulligan that immediately switches the film from a love triangle to a very bloody revenge thriller. And look out American History X, because that scene just about put your curb stomping scene to shame! Newton Thomas Siegel's cinematography is breathtaking, especially within the nighttime shots of downtown Los Angeles which perfectly convey the moody tone the film takes on in the first half of its duration. In addition, the chase sequences are filmed to perfection as the camera angles used for those scenes will remind you of the way car chases were filmed back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as you can hint that the Steve McQueen classic Bullitt served as an inspiration for both Refn's directing style and Gosling's performance.
Overall, Drive is an unforgettable thriller with lots of odes to the art house and neo-noir genres in tow. Flat out fantastic performances across the board from all of the main actors (especially Gosling and Brooks) along with very stylish direction by Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive is a film that will be either an international box office hit, or one that will only be appreciated by the film geeks who have a passion for the art house or neo-noir genre. Whether or not it will fall into the realms of one of those two, it is sure to be a cult classic in the future because this is definitely one of those films you shouldn't miss because it will talked about a lot come next year's awards season.
Final Grade: A