Anticipating Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive”

It is always hard to tell in a given year what is going to be a good film. I have a notoriously bad track record for predicting what movies I will end up loving. The trailer and the premise of the movies are always misleading because you can never get the full picture of what you are going to get from your characters or the action on screen. The Social Network, my favorite movie of last year, had a trailer that did nothing for me; it seemed the boring story of Facebook instead of one of the most interesting character studies of the year. Or there’s Avatar, the overly special effected movie that seemed it had nothing else going for it, but it ended up being an extremely fun romp that I enjoyed immensely.

So, with trepidation I decided to look at some of the movies that were coming out this year and see what am I going for, what is really exciting me. The movie that stuck out the most in my mind came as a bit of a surprise to me, and for that reason alone I knew that it was the movie to talk about.

The movie is Drive, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Bryan Cranston. The film has been described as a throwback to the action movies of the 1980s and was a surprise contender at the Cannes Film Festival. Considering its more action-oriented storyline, it seemed unlikely that Cannes would put it in competition, let alone give awards to it. Then it ended up being one of the best reviewed films of the festival and Nicolas Refn won the best director award.

I have not read many synopses for the film, or reviews, because I want to go in without too many preconceived notions. The premise that I have gotten is that Ryan Gosling, known simply as Driver, is as his name says. He is a driver; he works stunts for movies and he is the driver for criminals that seek his services. He meets up with Carey Mulligan’s character, Irene, and through some deal with her husband, something goes wrong and Driver is pursued under the notion that he stole some money.

The fact that this got into Cannes and won Best Director would alone make me interested in the film. I have found some great films through that festival; films that win awards there are usually at least worth a look. So that was the original draw, and with good critic responses already, that’s what made it easier to be excited about the film. What made it even more intriguing is that they are taking a concept that by all accounts is very simply done, just a lot of action and driving, and appear to have done something more with it. They have given it a depth beyond the normal instinct of these types of films. Violence is going to be all over the place, but they seem to be kicking it up a notch. This is not just watching the hero do impossible stunts. This is going to be the down and gritty, almost Goodfellas-type violence, that, instead of using violence for grotesque shock value, actually uses violence to accentuate the story and give a sense of actuality about what these characters are going through. Within this type of violence is the sense that we have no idea what characters will live or die; this adds a level of anticipation and makes the outcome in doubt.

There is also the draw of the cast. I am a huge fan of Breaking Bad and am eager to see Bryan Cranston in a movie, but the main draw for me is Ryan Gosling. He has been on my radar for awhile, but it was seeing him in Blue Valentine that really got my attention. He was spectacular in that film, overshadowing Michelle Williams (an actress I am very fond of) and really showing a range that I wasn’t aware that he had. Then there are the three movies he is doing this year. The first is Crazy, Stupid, Love, a romantic comedy that seems to be slightly different than the usual fare we get this time of year. Than later he has the possible Oscar vehicle Ides of March, George Clooney’s new movie, where he plays a political operative. Then Drive, where he looks almost detached. He is in the crime world; he knows what he is doing, but he also knows he isn’t the ultimate bad-ass. He is in a world that could kill him and is aware of it. It’s in the contrast of these roles that Drive popped up for me; the fact that he is showing off so many areas of his personality makes him more intriguing as an actor and thereby makes the movie more seeable.

This movie stands out to me as something a bit different, something to look forward to, but you never truly know if a movie will be worth your time until you see it. That is part of the fun of films: seeing something that looks interesting, and if disappointed, you can examine what didn’t work and have fun insulting it; then there is the time a movie surprises you and is better than you could possible imagine. It is what makes the filmgoing experience so much fun, never knowing what exactly you will get.

Drive will be released September 16th.


Benjamin is a film connoisseur and Oscar watcher who lives in Minneapolis and, when not reviewing movies, works at the Hennepin County Library.

You can reach Benjamin via email or on twitter

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