This Saturday (May 20), Nicolas Winding Refn’s modern classic Drive is screening at the Coolidge’s After Midnite series, and if you read this section frequently, you’ve already bought your tickets and you’re all set.
If you haven’t, you absolutely need to, and we’d also tell you to go see Friday’s screening of Bronson, Refn’s 2009 film that transformed Tom Hardy from failed Star Trek villain into a worldwide superstar, but you’ve got plans already. Seriously, though, Drive is a Great Fucking Movie, and we’ll gladly tell you why.
It’s hard not for us to gush about every aspect of Drive, from the tight editing to the gorgeous and warm cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel (fun fact: if you’re going to try and make the ultimate LA movie, it’s probably a great idea to hire a dude who worked on fuckin’ Lucifer Rising as a cameraman), to the impressive and beautiful score by Cliff Martinez. And that’s not even to mention the soundtrack, featuring a murderer’s row of great fucking synth-pop and outrun: Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” will never not be quintessential night-driving music, and countless bands have tried to capture Desire and Electric Youth’s gorgeous electronic minimalism ever since.
Drive is stacked to the gills with great actors, from a pre-fame Oscar Issac (back when he was just the dude who played King John in Ridley Scott’s terrible Robin Hood movie a summer earlier) to Bryan Cranston to Ron Perlman to Christina Hendricks to Albert fuckin’ Brooks. Carey Mulligan does great work here as well, though she’s unfairly beaten up by this movie’s detractors for things she really can’t control. There’s a sad beauty to her performance, and her kiss with Gosling is a moment of blissful cinema in the midst of what will ultimately be a dark and violent confrontation in that elevator, to the point where it almost feels like magical realism — an ephemeral glimpse of unreal beauty right before exposed brain matter covers the carpeted floor.
Of course, this is Gosling’s feature, and he brings a shitload of pathos to a character whose defining feature is quiet detachment. Though adapted from James Sallis’ 2005 novel, Refn’s feature owes a shitload to Walter Hill’s 1978 feature The Driver, which offers up Ryan O’Neal as the “quiet getaway driver,” an archetype it’d help create in an also-iconic fashion, and O’Neal is similarly credited as only “The Driver.”
Sallis and Refn’s best achievement here is to drop the cops-and-robbers plot (outside of the exhilarating opening sequence) that defines Hill’s film and replace it with the love story between Gosling and Mulligan. This perpetually undermines whatever coolness Gosling’s nameless character, known only as the driver, has at any given moment — sure, he’s a silent badass with a scorpion jacket and can be super threatening and brutal when he needs to be, but he’s ultimately an alien, who can’t function without the same things that anybody does: love, connection; all the toothpicks in the world can’t keep that away. Gosling’s blank stare is the perfect vehicle for this — he allows us to write ourselves into his every expression, and fill in the gaps with the elegant melancholy that makes up great chunks of our lives — and he’s utterly fantastic.
We’re sure there’s plenty more delights coming soon to a theater near you, and we’re sure that if we’re objectively ranking “best films of the decade” like we will be in a scant three years, that inevitably some cinematic wunderkinds will drop work so challenging and beautiful that we’ll have to push this out of our top ten. But in terms of favorites, this will always hold a spot close to our hearts, especially on warm afternoons set in orange haze, coasting down the freeways, our speakers blaring synth-pop affirmations of our humanity.
If you’re like us, Drive is cinema at it’s absolute finest and Should. Not. Be. Missed.
Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus.