Cool, stylish action doesn’t get more cool or stylish than Drive,Nicolas Winding Refn‘s English language debut that arrived in September of 2011, ten years ago last week.
The film, written by Hossein Amini, has a plot that involves a botched heist and a feud among a group of criminals who distrust one another. But the plot has little to do with Drive‘s appeal ― in fact, it’s all about style. It’s got action, but it’s not really an action movie.
Drive is a great L.A. movie, shooting in obscure corners of the city and using lighting to do fantastic things. There’s Gosling’s instantly iconic scorpion jacket, Cliff Martinez‘s fantastic score, and Newton Thomas Sigel‘s top-notch cinematography.
Refn layers on a ton of 1980s music and iconography, despite the movie being set in what was then the present day. The filmmakers also found a fantastic theme song, College and Electric Youth’s “A Real Hero,” which sounds like it’s from 1985 even though it was recorded in 2010.
Ryan Gosling may have seemed like a counterintuitive choice at the time, but he turned out to be perfect for the unnamed lead role, a character known only as “Driver.”
He’s a stuntman and stunt driver, who takes whatever work he can from both Hollywood and the area’s criminal underworld. He gets involved with a group of criminals, led by boss Bernie (Albert Brooks, gloriously cast against type as a tough guy), and also including his henchman Shannon (Bryan Cranston, playing a much less effective criminal in the middle of the run of Breaking Bad), and the Italian/Jewish Nino (Ron Perlman), who gets a fine monologue about how he’s never accepted by the Italians.
Ryan Gosling may have seemed like a counterintuitive choice at the time, but he turned out to be perfect for the unnamed lead role
The Driver soon becomes close with a single mom in his apartment building (Carey Mulligan), and bonds with her young son ― a situation that gets complicated when the boy’s father (Oscar Isaac) returns from prison. It was Isaac’s first major role, and while it’s a small one, he got a chance to show off some serious screen charisma.
Things come to a head in the famous elevator scene:
There’s a failed heist, a few gruesome killings, and some clever use of Hollywood makeup in one of them. But really, Drive probably only has enough plot for 15 minutes, and it’s a 100-minute movie.
Drive, despite Best Director win at Cannes, didn’t have much awards season luck, as its only Oscar nomination was for Best Sound Editing. However, its reputation is better than most movies from that year.
Refn’s career has been a bit uneven since, having directed only two films, 2013’s Only God Forgives and 2016’s The Neon Demon, as well as the 2019 Amazon crime series Too Old to Die Young. Time, however, has been better for the actors, especially Gosling, Isaac, and Mulligan.
Drive is currently available to stream on Peacock.