If you haven’t heard about Nicolas Winding Refn’s newest film Drive starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Albert Brooks, and featuring Christina Hendricks then you’re missing out on a fine film. It’s an action movie glossed over with a 1980s veneer. Drive treats its simple plotline of a wheelman’s mishap as if it were a high concept art house flick. It’s a critical dynamo with a current Rotten Tomatoes rating of 93%. However, audiences aren’t as easily impressed it seems. Drive is not a fast paced racing movie like most entries of the car film genre. Instead the film is almost two hours and uses sound as a sparse tool. It’s often very quiet throughout the movie until sound erupts, jarring the viewer’s attention.
Drive, despite its title, is more of a character study than a car movie. Our main character is an unnamed Driver (Gosling) who is a professional Hollywood stunt driver. He moonlights on the side as a wheelman for heists. As the film progresses the Driver is drawn to a woman named Irene (Mulligan) and her child, Benicio. He does his best to get her safely out of a jam brought on her by the father of her child, Standard (Oscar Isaac).
I was disappointed by the lack of favorable reviews from members of the audience. I saw the film a few weeks after its release even though I was anticipating it very much. In short I was blown away by the story. Gosling commands the screen and interacts wonderfully with an excellently casted ensemble. But since I’ve watched the film I’ve been thinking about the story. There was something odd going on behind the Driver’s peculiar grin which seemed to pop up throughout the movie, often in times when he seems uncomfortable in his particular social situation. His boyish haircut caught my eye as well; the part in the middle seemed strange for a grown man. And why that throwback 80’s silver jacket with the golden scorpion on the back? Although it stands out visually why was this jacket chosen for the Driver?
Bear with me: I believe Gosling’s Driver character has a mental illness. I’m not much of a doctor but based on my knowledge of the disorders I’d say he’s got something along the lines of autism or possibly Asperger’s syndrome. It could explain why the Driver is so awkward in social situations. When he meets Irene, a girl he likes, he barely speaks. The Driver also forms a close bond with Irene’s son, Benicio. If Sling Blade has taught me anything about people with learning disabilities, it’s that it’s easier for them to relate with children than adults.
The Driver has a strong bond with the child throughout the film. In fact, it is when Benicio hands him a bullet, signifying that the gangsters will kill him and his mother that the Driver really goes over the edge to the point of beating a man mercilessly in a strip club. He does everything in his power to protect his friend.
I’m not saying that Gosling’s character cared more about his relationship with the child than his romantic conquest of Irene, because after all he lands a slow motion kiss with her on the elevator. And then he immediately stomps a hit man’s brains to mush. He is not aware of the power within him and this frightens Irene. She steps off the elevator in horror, leaving the Driver with the body.
And what about the Driver’s reinforcement of his rules, that the trailer for the film showcases so much? The Driver makes it a point to ramble on about how he doesn’t carry a gun and that he’ll only give the crooks so much time before he abandons them. These rules seem like the droning thoughts of a man lost in his own mind; more for his own personal benefit than for the crooks who barely care about his guidelines.
All the way up to the climax of the film, the Driver has a rare motivation or “drive” that propels him through dangerous scenarios no average loner would go through to protect his neighbors. In the process he loses a mentor, enrages the mafia, and is almost killed before getting the best of his attacker. The Driver is a man that can endure much pain; obviously the average damage a stunt man would endure but he also shows calmness when sitting in his car after having a knife plunged into his gut. If his mental health was an issue, his brain could possibly not comprehend the pain he is in at the scene in the car as he is nearly dying.
This is of course merely a theory and truthfully I’m far from sold on it myself. But Drive is a movie begging for interpretation. It’s a film with a lot going on under the surface. This kind of depth is the reason audiences shunned it for being merely “too slow” while asking, “what is this, a silent film?!” Above all I’d recommend catching this gem before it leaves theatres. If you have any patience at all for a fine film, it should be right up your alley.
Madhaus Rating: 4/5 Stars