To the sound of retro-eighties musical styling and lashings of bubblegum-pink opening credits we are let into the world of The Kid: straight-faced Ryan Gosling, pulling on his driving gloves and preparing for a stint as a getaway car driver. The following driving scene, while breathtaking, isn’t quite the chase scene we’re used to—it’s more tactical driving than 6 Fast 6 Furious or whatever car movies the kids are watching nowadays—and it’s also one of only two real chase set pieces in the film. Don’t let that fact dissuade you, as Drive is a brilliant film, and Gosling just proves that he can do anything. But mostly he can out-smirk anyone.
The Kid is a getaway driver by night and a Hollywood stunt driver by day, spending his other waking hours as a mechanic working for ideas man Shannon (Bryan Cranston). He also appears to be indescribably lonely, never seeing anyone outside of those he drives around, Shannon himself, and his shyly smiling neighbour, Irene. It’s an eventual encounter with Irene in the car park that leads to the relationship that—while beautifully touching—changes the life of everyone in the film. As the friendship between The Kid, Irene, and Irene’s young son Benicio develops (and you’re never entirely sure what it develops into; it’s mostly told through five long silences, three big smiles and some hand-holding), their lives are disrupted when Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac, and, yes, a “deluxe” joke is made) returns from prison. Nothing does noir better than a plotline that involves one last job before everyone lives happily ever after (and involves someone called Blanche—Christina Hendricks, who is dressed down and wonderful but not worthy of her top billing); nothing makes movie like a situation going wrong in spectacular, bloodthirsty fashion.
Drive keeps up a cracking pace despite the fact that you get no hint of the violence to come for quite some time, until the Kid is at a bar and encounters someone he’s driven previously. There are moments of such tension that I gripped the seat handles and closed my eyes; there are moments I wanted to last forever. It’s a world so ridiculous that you can’t tell if it’s realistic, or if it’s just that the Kid is so wrapped up in his own world that he believes he’s in a movie. The crimes he assists in seem victimless and he helps people to do good, then gets revenge when people are bad.
The choices of direction are interesting; the car chases are often told via the expressions on those inside rather than panning shots of the outside of the car; the Kid’s calm enthralling against the panic of others. Moments of violence you expect the camera to pan away from actually stick around for more splattering than you thought you could bear. Small touches—the cleaning of a prized knife after it’s been used by a character to kill a friend; the sun-dappled family moment by the river; a shark-like murder by the sea—they’re all perfectly handled and indicative of an excellent movie.
Rounding out the flawless cast is Hellboy, aka Ron Perlman as a bad guy whose best moment is laughing uproariously in front of a bored blonde (and who has more lower face than any other actor but it makes him completely irresistible, to be honest) and Albert Brooks, Shannon’s benefactor and one of the few characters to show genuine emotion. The movie on the whole is an unexpected delight—I say unexpected because I included this smaller-than-usual movie poster to show that the Australian poster looks all WHOO DRIVING MOVIE VROOM VROOOOOOM when really, that leads you totally astray, and I recommend going off this next one.
I give it nine out of ten stomps to the head. I might even give it ten out of ten but I haven’t done a perfect score yet and am not sure if I’ll ever be able to bring myself to do it. Also, even when they’re appropriate, long silences and people enigmatically not replying to questions just makes me want to tear my hair out.