A young man (Ryan Gosling) works as a stunt driver and a mechanic during the day and spends his nights as a getaway driver. When he becomes entangled in the lives of his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, things get more complicated. Add in some pissed off mob bosses (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman), and more than a spot of violence, and you have something approximating Nicolas Winding Refn’s weird, atmospheric Drive.
The formula in Winding Refn’s movie is simple, and at the beginning, it almost seems as though it will work. Gosling’s character (always referred to as the Driver, or the Kid) has a quiet way about him, and as he expertly navigates his way out of a police chase, viewers are riveted. The movie feels, in many ways, an homage to the highway movies of the 60s and 70s (and has a soundtrack straight out of the 80s).
The problem is that once the movie gets going, viewers realize that while it’s somber in tone and pretty slick in appearance, the movie itself is empty. The characters have no depth despite the fact that they’re inhabited by a largely talented cast. In addition to blank characters, the movie’s atmospheric masculine melancholy threatens to choke the film more than once.
In addition to being full of emptiness, the film struggles to figure out what it’s aiming for. Is it a shallow action flick, or a weird pseudo-European art house film? The reality is that it attempts both and only succeeds at being European-esque. I had a long conversation with my viewing partner about whether or not the film itself is supposed to be a fable and whether or not the character of the kid is supposed to be a real person. While he was adamant that the entire thing is a fable featuring a mythical person, I had to wonder how many viewers will actually get that.
At the end of the day, the movie doesn’t quite succeed. The action thriller aspects of the movie aren’t quite right, and characters who lack depth or actual personality means that the movie doesn’t succeed there, either. It is interesting to look at, though, and the soundtrack is worth checking out.
Drive was released in theaters on September 16, 2011. It will be released on DVD in the United States on January 31, 2012.