Drive is all over the map: it begins with a clear homage to Walter Hill's 1978 cult hit The Driver, where Ryan Gosling takes on Ryan O'Neal's character of the driver. He is cool, calm and collected with a fucking tooth pick. His rules are clear and fair, he is the driver and that is all. So we seem to have a simple heist/car chase picture, until after the credits come up on the screen layered in pink and we enter John Hughes territory with the boy likes girl scenario showered in 80s synth pop. This continues for what seems like an hour, short on dialogue or car action. During this period we are introduced to the main characters, who all seem repressed and frightened. Gosling is borderline mute, his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) isn't far off either, but despite this they spark a relationship along with her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos).
Apart from getting warm and cuddly with Irene and Benicio, the Driver works in the movies as a stuntman, while working as a team with his mentor Shannon (Bryan Cranston) in a garage. He also moonlights as a getaway driver from time to time I suppose. Shannon introduces him to Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), an ex movie producer, who dabbles in crime with his Jewish mob partner Nino (Ron Perlman). Bernie invests $300,000 into a NASCAR vehicle that the Driver will inhabit.
When it seems the Driver and Irene might become romantically involved, her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns from prison, only to be harassed by a petty gangster named Cook (James Biberi), who vows to harm Irene and Benicio if he doesn't do a robbery for him. The Driver, cool as a fucking cucumber and chewing on his tooth pick decides to help Standard in the heist in order to protect Irene and Benicio. Of course everything that can go wrong does, Standard is killed and the Driver is left with the money and responsible for the lives of Irene and Benicio.
From John Hughes and Walter Hill we are catapulted into visceral display of violence and survival that is reminiscent of Scorsese's Taxi Driver and John Carpenter's Halloween. In fact the killings are played out in similar style to the slasher genre, and by the time we get to the beach scene we feel like we are face to face with Michael Myers. The Driver also portrays characteristics similar to Paul Schrader's Travis Bickle, a man who is severed from social interaction, but who is willing to put his life on the line for the greater good. The Driver gains more of a personality through his violent acts, which he takes too far in order to just defend himself (elevator scene). Our interest in him grows and we become curious as to what occurred in our protagonist's life before Los Angeles (an idea for a prequel), but for now he remains existential and the supporting cast keeps us up to date on the spiraling predicament.
Nicolas Winding Refn chooses style and technique over substance, but there is emotion present, only it is repressed by the characters through fear or vulnerability. Shannon and Bernie repress their feelings for each other, fear on Shannon's part and vulnerability on Bernie's part. Nino is the only character who really lets it pour out when he expresses his spite for the Italian mafia because they patronize him for being Jewish.
Alas, Drive for the general audience does come down to style with its neo-noir landscape of Los Angeles, retro 80s synthesizers and violent gore that would make Tom Savini proud. It is evident why Refn won the Best Director Award at Cannes this year for this genre mashing piece of work and while Driver may not be the years best film it is the most interesting yet.