SONY PICTURES HOME ENTERTAINMENT
2011/Rated R/Running Time 100 mins
List Price: $30.99 – Available January 31, 2012
More than any other film in recent memory Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive effectively establishes itself in it’s first five minutes alone. Ryan Gosling’s unnamed character, is only referred to as “The Driver” because that’s exactly what he does. The opening sequence of Refn’s film simply portrays Gosling as a man of few words who takes his job seriously as a wheelman who transports two thieves away from the scene of a robbery in under five minutes. His services are for hire under the condition that exact time period is the window in which he operates and with methodical precision, Gosling evades and escapes police detection, transporting his two passengers to safety before walking away himself. Such a small minimalist picture needs to be promoted properly if it wishes to stand out from larger studio films, but Drive is being unwisely pushed as an action thriller rather than the character piece it actually is. Sure, there’s action in Drive, but even more memorable is how quickly violence occurs and often in graphic, shocking ways. Those opening moments are in fact only the films pre-credit sequence, which establishes a mood familiar to fans of the early work of Michael Mann, with a soundtrack that definitely owes a lot to the eighties and Giorgio Moroder.
The Driver also works behind the wheel by day as a Hollywood stunt performer and auto mechanic under mentor Shannon (Bryan Cranston). A former race car driver who ended up in debt and with one wrecked leg, Shannon wants to get back in the game and hopes former movie producer turned gangster Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) can help him do it. Bernie’s an amicable guy who’s always been fond of Shannon from the old days, but don’t let that fool you. Despite the fact that he’s eager to financially back Shannon and his plans to turn his prodigy into a race car driver, Bernie’s a stone cold killer in partnership with fellow gangster Nino (Ron Perlman). Driver’s work ethic may keep him out of the hands of the law, but it also alienates him from everyone. He keeps to himself, speaks very little and spends most of his downtime either working on auto parts in the garage or his small apartment. So it’s a surprise that he establishes a friendly rapport with neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son. Some car trouble brings her to Shannon’s garage and before long Driver is taking the single mother and her son on a drive less perilous than those he makes a living out of.
Just as it looks Driver and Irene are about to start something, into the picture walks her son’s father Standard Gabriel (Oscar Issac), fresh out of prison. The up and coming Issac is nearly as good as Gosling in the manner in which he establishes his character as a cypher. You’re not sure is Standard is grateful that Driver has looked out for his family while he’s been gone or feels threatened. Standard does find himself needing help after Driver discovers him bloodied and battered at the hands of two thugs. They feel he owes them a job and in exchange for his services won’t lay a hand on Irene and their son. For their sake, Driver decides to help, unaware of what he’s getting into. The job turns out to be more complex and dangerous than he imagined, because as fate would have it, its tied to an operation put together by some familiar faces.
Drive once had Hugh Jackman attached to star and would no doubt have been turned into the studio action picture its being promoted as. Vin Diesel already has his foot firmly planted in that territory with the Fast & Furious franchise and it works for him because those films don’t pretend to be anything more than popcorn pictures. Gosling sought out Refn to be his director and the duo attempted to make the story as simple as possible; taking out much of his character’s dialogue written by Hossein Amini from James Sallis’ novel of the same name. The end result turns Driver into an enigmatic character who feels threatening, yet is a hero difficult to identify with. Driver is indeed noble and the actions he takes to protect innocents like Irene and her son make him the protagonist of the piece. He gives off a vibe of cool not unlike the late Steve McQueen, but it’s also disturbing how easily he can shift towards violence. Gosling portrays the mysterious individual as a man who obviously has more than a screw loose. Something’s a bit off about this guy and he’s not always there. This might work if the characters around him were as dimensional, but with the exception of Brooks’ Bernie Rose that’s not the case.
Issac makes a strong foil for Gosling despite his limited screentime as does Cranston as a potential father figure. Although Mulligan plays the lead female character, we’re given little insight into what she’s really about and Irene barely registers as does Christina Hendricks in a brief role as Standard’s fellow thief. The dilemma of Perlman’s Nino is quite interesting in the fact that he wishes to stand apart from the east coast mob who look down upon his Jewish heritage, but his work should be at the level of Brooks since their characters are business partners. Perlman comes across as a bully with thugs who do his work for him, not a real threat. Brooks on the other hand manages to surprise, even taking matters into his hands on more than one occasion. Though he’s chosen a dirty business, it doesn’t seem like Bernie is too fond of it despite the fact that he’s good at what he does. He even appears genuinely sincere and disappointed when things start going the wrong way for Shannon and the Driver.
Like any film, time will be the true test to see if a movie like Drive is remembered and appreciated by audiences for its brave minimalist and retro approach or simply forgotten. Today’s moviegoers are impatient and in need of a quick fix because they’ve been spoiled by the hundreds of millions Hollywood as spent to bombard their senses with hallow visuals. There’s a lyrical sense to the visuals in Drive which include beautiful nighttime photography and even a dream like drive through the Sepulveda spillway. The look of the film often puts you in a trance so that when violence does erupt, it catches you off guard. Drive would no doubt resonate more if the characters were fleshed out just a bit, but cinematically it has a lot more going for it than most films today.
Video: Though Drive represents simplistic storytelling and a return to the old, it makes a strong case for the future, with its incredible digital photography providing an absorbing and rich experience. Blacks and shadow detail are excellent, immediately pulling you into the story during the opening nighttime sequence. There’s impeccable detail to be found in daylight sequences as well, but what’s surprising is that detail can also be found in the low light level shots at night. Fleshtones appear accurate and never does the film’s photography give off a “digital” or washed out appearance making this a top-notch transfer from Sony.
Audio: Drive is a film about mood and rather than mix together a slam-bang action oriented soundtrack, Refn appropriately went for ambiance, nothing loud or distracting. The show of restraint in this DTS 5.1 Master Audio track actually gives the film more power when violence does erupt, often jolting the viewer to attention. Dialogue is clean, balanced and easy to understand and music is mixed properly across the soundstage, playing an important role in Refn’s storytelling.
Extras: It’s almost no surprise to me that such an enigmatic film like Drive would have a blu-ray release light on extras. This was a small production so the thought of recording a wealth behind-the-scenes or EPK material probably didn’t occur to the producers who no doubt were more concerned with getting the film picked up by a studio. I Drive (HD, 5:26 mins): Is a short bit that examines the story and characters as well as the contributions of the writer and director while Under the Hood (HD 11:50 mins) is more focused on the characters and the actors that play them.
Driver and Irene (HD, 6:14 mins) takes a peek at the budding romance between two of the film’s central characters and Cut to the Chase (1080p, 4:35) gets down to the dangers of the stunt work in the driving sequences.
Drive Without a Driver: Entretien Avec Nicolas Winding Refn (HD, 25:41 mins): The longest featurette on the disc, Refn opens up about what his intentions for the film and his thoughts on the final result. The disc is also BD-Live enabled and includes an UltraViolet Copy.
Source: RON’S MEDIA SANCTUM