In Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn (Pusher trilogy), directs Ryan Gosling, The Driver, in a gritty, brutally violent crime drama set in L.A. The Driver works as a mechanic and a Hollywood stuntman, moonlighting as a getaway driver for local crooks. He becomes enamored with a woman, Irene (Carey Mulligan), who lives down the hall in his apartment complex, and befriends her and her child. When Irene's husband is released from jail, The Driver takes on a getaway job for him to help him erase a debt. The job goes awry, and the rest of the film depicts the gruesome lengths The Driver takes to ensure Irene and her child stay safe.
There were a lot of aspects of this film that were done right. Most prevalent, the cinematography was stunning and stylish. From the way the driving sequences were shot, to the depiction of graphic violence, everything just looked gorgeously slick. Two scenes in particular stand out to me. First, when The Driver goes to a strip club to find one of the men involved in crossing him, the viciousness of the revenge The Driver takes will be etched into my memory for some time. The way the scene was brightly lit, with the beautiful, naked women in the background (who acted like nothing was going on), made the shot appear to be taken from a dream sequence. The other stand out sequence in this film is when The Driver, Irene, and a hit man wind up in an elevator together. The Driver grabs Irene, passionately kisses her, and then proceeds to literally stomp in the face of the hit man. The contrast of love and rage, and the way The Driver and Irene look at each other after the event is over, make for a visceral piece of film making. The scene I just described is probably my favorite of the year. Refn is clearly incredibly talented behind the camera.
As for the acting, the whole cast was solid, with Gosling being exceptional, as we are all growing to expect from him. Considering the film lacks extensive dialogue, Gosling had to actually act, not just speak, and he pulled it off convincingly. Carey Mulligan was solid as Irene, the "single/not-single/single again" mother that The Driver befriends. The supporting cast of characters were great, especially the two main villains, played by Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks...especially Albert Brooks, great supporting performance.
And for what I didn't like. I thought the script was lacking. I get that the whole mystery behind The Driver enhances his "lone wolf" persona, but I found myself wanting to know his history and his motives. Hell, you don't even get the dude's name. Yeah, I didn't want to see him fail, but I didn't particularly care for what happened to him either. The only character I cared about at all in this film was Irene's kid. Actually, I also felt pretty bad for Irene's husband. He's not in the movie long, but the scene where he got gunned down was one of the few when I felt any kind of emotion toward a character. Overall, I just wasn't really that invested.
All that said, this gritty film currently sits fourth in my running list of the best movies of 2011, behind The Beginners, 50/50, and Midnight in Paris. It's certainly not a film for everyone. A lot of people will be turned away by the violence, and the general "Euro" feel to the movie (the director is Danish). As this one stews in my brain, I find myself overlooking it's flaws more and more, so I wouldn't be surprised if it creeps up my list a bit before the year ends. If you like Tarantino or Cronenberg's ventures into the crime genre, definitely check this out.