Any cinephile on social media has seen Nicolas Winding Refn teasing an upcoming 4K Ultra-HD release of Drive (2011). I remember when Drive came out that I didn’t expect it to have the kind of longevity it has sustained for a decade. Drive turned out to be one of the cultural touchstones of the 2010s for American cinema; endlessly referenced, constantly compared to. I suppose that proves the naysayers who thought Drive was just a remake of Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978) wrong, now doesn’t it?
Drive does deserve its reputation. Of course it was part of the zeitgeist, but it’s transcended that. This is largely due, in my opinion, to Refn’s craft as a director. Drive is as much a mood piece as it is a character study, doing for Ryan Gosling and cars what Le Samourai (1967) did for Alain Delon, fedoras and trench coats. Drive just feels “cool”.
Refn is actually pretty bold to keep the dialogue at an absolute minimum. He relies on cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel and leading man Gosling to fill the film with the Driver’s interiority. This tactic is, in turn, aided by Cliff Martinez’s iconic score. The ambience in Drive is palpable. Every scene is full of characterization and a sense of space; a terrific example of narrative and aesthetic economy.
I always thought it was great that, in the neon lit neo-noir world of Drive, Albert Brooks was the big bad. Refn shared this anecdote while promoting the film that he cast Brooks because of the scene in Brook’s Lost In America (1985) where the writer/director completely loses it at Julie Hagerty. According to Refn he saw this scene as a kid and was instantly terrified of Brooks. Albert Brooks isn’t known for playing the “bad guy”, he’s a first rate comedian, yet he pulls it off perfectly.
Drive is really a great little action-thriller. It isn’t bogged down by pretensions or ambition. It’s the kind of film one can revisit every year without getting bored with it. The real downside is that Carey Mulligan and Ryan Gosling haven’t worked together since.