Good filmmaking is less about story and more about storytelling. On the page, there’s no real reason Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive should be a great movie, what with its underwritten hero and its convoluted plot and yet it is.Drive is a top-flight thriller with Ryan Gosling as a stunt driver who does a little getaway driving on the side. Credit Refn for seeing the potential in Hossein Amini’s script, which could have gone wrong at any moment (that’s not a knock on the script, per se, just an observation that it was paired with the right collaborators). Violent and stylish in which the driving action is secondary to the personal and interrelationship struggles going on, the movie is comfortable in being all sizzle and no steak and really cool for the sake of cool. Movies are the only medium I can think where that can work. “For a movie called Drive there isn’t a lot of driving in the movie,” was the quip I heard. I didn’t miss the driving.
The performance by Gosling is fantastic, as he’s able to flesh out and give depth to a character who rarely strings together four words at a time. Were this movie made forty years ago, Alain Delon would have played this part. In fact, I’d find it hard to believe if Refn and Gosling didn’t study Le Samourai heavily while in preparation for Drive. Here is a serious man who does what he does not out of joy but out of a practical realization that he’s good at it. Gosling is able to evoke a powerful simmering danger right beneath the surface. And we never doubt his violent potential. But the movie is truly elevated by its rich supporting cast led by Albert Brooks, as a fast talking anti-Gosling, who’s danger is nowhere near the surface until suddenly it emerges like a python strike. Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks (in a brief scene that she makes count) and Ron Perlman complete the cast of this most remarkable picture.