Drive Review
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Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has attracted plenty of attention in the film community for his dark and gritty and oddly mesmerizing films—like Bronson, which took Sundance by storm in 2009. His almost cult-like following caught the eye of art-house star Ryan Gosling, who brought him in to direct the new crime thriller, Drive. But while the film’s trailers suggest that Refn’s first Hollywood production is also his first big step into mainstream moviemaking, this stripped-down thriller is actually anything but mainstream.

Gosling stars as the nameless Driver, a quiet kid who does Hollywood stunts by day and works as a freelance getaway driver by night. Everything seems to be working out for Driver. He’s started spending time with his new neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her son, Benicio (Kaden Leos). And his boss, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), is working on a lucrative deal that will help him make the move from stunts and getaways to racing. But then Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), gets out of jail and ruins everything.

Standard wants to go straight, but he owes some unsavory people a lot of money—and the only way to pay off his debt is to do one last job. Fearing that Standard is putting Irene and Benicio in danger, Driver agrees to help—but the job goes horribly wrong, leaving Driver searching for answers.

From the trailers (and the premise), you might be expecting Drive to be a non-stop action thrill-ride. Even the brilliant opening scene, which shows Driver on one of his nighttime assignments, seems to promise nothing but breathtaking suspense. But then the action comes to a screeching halt.

For much of the film, Drive focuses on the budding relationship between the quiet loner and his pretty neighbor, with some brief encounters with Shannon’s shady business associates, Bernie Rose (played by a shockingly anti-typecast Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman). The story crawls along, slowly, gradually taking most of the film to build up to Driver’s job with Standard.

After such a long and unhurried build-up, then, most viewers will be entirely unprepared for the sudden bursts of extreme violence that pop up late in the film. Still, it isn’t the graphic, grindhouse-worthy violence that’s the most off-putting; it’s the fact that the bursts of violence are so few and far between. Sure, they’re completely, shockingly (and often sickeningly) over-the-top, but they’re separated by more drawn-out moments of quiet drama.

Drive is definitely a stylish film, with touches of classic noir and stripped-down retro action. It’s quietly haunting—and it has its moments of sheer brilliance. But it’s also slow and somewhat uneven (and Ron Perlman is shamefully underused). For Refn’s art house followers, it’s a dark and fascinating film—but if you’re expecting a mainstream thriller, you’ll be in for a not entirely pleasant surprise.

DVD Review:
Want to know a little more about Drive and its enigmatic main character? Then you’re in luck—because the film’s DVD release includes a number of interesting extras.

Four featurettes discuss various aspects of the film. I Drive discusses the basics of the story and Refn as a director—but, of course, it focuses on the character of Driver and his experiences. Under the Hood takes a longer look at the story, showing how the actors worked with Refn and writer Hossein Amini to flesh out the characters (which might make you wonder whether the characters in the original script were developed at all). Driver and Irene takes a look at the relationship between the two main characters—though, strangely, without a single word from Ryan Gosling. And the shortest of the features, Cut to the Chase, takes a quick look at the stunts and car chases.

For a more detailed exploration of the process, you’ll want to check out Drive Without a Driver, a 25-minute interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn, who discusses the entire process of making the film—from his first awkward meeting with Ryan Gosling to his experience at Cannes. It’s a pretty basic documentary—just Refn sitting in front of a bunch of cars, talking about the movie—but he’s got plenty of interesting stories to tell.

Of course, Drive’s special features aren’t without their flaws—most notably, the fact that Ryan Gosling never makes an appearance (and Refn himself only appears in the documentary). But if you’re looking for a little more insight into the film and the filmmaking process, you’re sure to find something of interest among the film’s extras.

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