Ryan Gosling continues his quest to become one of the most interesting, unpredictable and diverse actors of his generation with the release of his new film Drive. In 2011 he’s branched out from his usual mix of indie and commercial fare to star in his first comedy, Crazy Stupid Love and his first action film with the aforementioned Drive. Gosling has Leonardo Di Caprio’s gift for having an varied career, mixing the crowd pleasing hit (The Notebook) with intense character pieces (Half Nelson) and his latest film seems to be a perfect blend of the two.
Gosling’s constant success is almost certainly partially based on his skill at picking interesting and original directors to work with. Last year he delivered a emotionally wrenching performance as a man trapped in a slowly dissolving relationship in Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine. Exhausted afterwards he began work on Drive with handpicked Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn. Refn is a left of center choice for something that could be a generic action chase flick, being that he made the dark and grittily violent Pusher and the avant garde prison movie Bronson. Drive sounds like a rather well worn take on the genre, dealing with a Hollywood stunt performer (Gosling) who moonlights as a wheelman for the mob at night and discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist goes wrong.
Gosling and Refn’s take on the material involves stripping it all down to the essential’s, distilling it all down to pure mood, look and atmosphere. They taken the approach of Walter Hill in his 1970′s classic The Driver, no name for the protagonist other than his role (The Driver) and replace dialogue with a nomadic kind of existential loneliness. After his last few roles Gosling relished the chance to strip all his dialogue away and learnt how to stunt drive and strip down and rebuild a car to prepare for the role. Bryan Cranston star of TV’s Breaking Bad takes on another dark role in it, as does Hellboy star Ron Pearlman and Carey Mulligan adds heart to the film as a woman Gosling becomes romantically entangled with, further complicating the film. Refn’s influences for the film range from Grimm’s Fairytale’s, John Carpenter films and similar Steve Mc Queen hard edged classics such as The Getaway.
Similarities with the video game don’t end at a 80′s style Grand Theft Auto poster for the film, the movie (unsurprisingly for a Refn film) also has what is known as a fantastically violent and visceral scene of carnage in an elevator, (which has to be seen to be believed), and when a director dedicates an action movie to Alejandro Jodorowsky the visionary, hallucinogenic and slightly mad director of El Topo you know you’re going to get something interesting.
But for all the eccentrics of the film, it’s also got a string action backbone with slickly shot and preformed car scenes befitting of Goslings role and Refn seems to have gained Michael Mann’s gift for accurately depicting the oxygenated pulse of Los Angeles nightlife, showing Goslings world as a dizzying blur of darkened streets soaked in sodium hued streetlight.
Drive is a neo noir character driven action movie that seems like it could appeal to both the action crowds (for Gosling’s muscular build and stunt scenes) and the arthouse crowd (Thanks to it’s standing ovation at the Cannes Film festival) and whatever the outcome, it looks like a Drive worth taking.