Drive is a very still, quiet picture, punctuated with moments of extreme violence and surprising tenderness. In retrospect, it’s easy to see the influence of two major directors in Nicholas Lynd’s stunning sophomore film. With the beautiful cinematography and character-driven story, Drive harks of Michael Mann at his best. Harking to the feel of Heat and Manhunter and Collateral, this LA, too, is threatening and fantastic to behold. The second is David Cronenberg for the nauseating violence of the film. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does it looks and *sounds* disgusting. There’s a real visceral feel to the film.
The third is John Carpenter.
Ryan Gosling is mesmerizing as the lead (never named in the film – always referred to as “the Driver” or “kid”), playing a laconic loner who, according to his mechanic, can do anything behind the wheel. Given the opening sequence where he expertly eludes the police on a hired heist, we have no trouble believing this.
Gosling slowly falls for his young mother neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, albeit reluctantly. He avoids them in the supermarket until he’s forced into socialization via a broken-down car. He may even interpret this as fate, as his life revolves entirely around cars. Their comfortable, quiet conversations eventually give way to a beautifully filmed scene where they just stare at each other for perhaps a half-minute, conveying their feelings of interest clearly without saying a word. It’s some breathtaking acting and rarer still in this era of very chatty films.
A kink in the plans arrives with the unexpected release from prison of Irene’s husband, Standard, who has fallen in with the wrong crowd. The Driver tries to help him out of a bad situation to protect his family, but it goes horribly wrong.
This is where I get a strong influence from the third director. Carpenter by way of Halloween, that is. And I’m talking about the hero of the film.
Even before the stunning and mesmerizing scene with the mask and Nino on the beach – which is starkly framing the Driver as a horror monster – the scene in the elevator combines all three directors in one amazing sequence. The Driver, confronted with impending violence (or is there?) of a gangster in the elevator with him and Irene, pulls her aside and they share a couple of tender, soft, empassioned kisses. Immediately following this, he proceeds to protect her by attacking the gangster and kicking his face in. Literally. The horror of the actions and lengths he will go to protect her stuns them both (her more than him), and likely the audience beyond what we are used to for an anti-hero. He crosses the line of acceptable “protection” and continues to for the remainder of the picture. Not necessarily because it is violence but because the violence is naked, stark, and threatening to us. It’s not easily disgestible, put a bullet-in-him death but visceral, drawn out, and ugly.
As an aside, was Nicholas Lynd trying to tell a twilight-zone story – a kind of What If tale featuring Michael Myers if Michael was a more socially acceptable killer? Specifically reminiscent of Halloween, the stillness of the main character (Ryan Gosling – unnamed throughout – and fantastic) and his laconic nature juxtaposed with his amazingly violent reactions to his love being threatened – just something I’ll have to re-examine the next time I watch it.