Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011
BBFC rating: 18
Like Taxi Driver, which is clearly a source of inspiration for this movie, Drive follows a man of quiet violence motoring around the streets, resolutely following his own unusual moral code, unaccountably putting all his eggs into the basket of a woman he barely knows but with whom he has a relationship of semirequited love. Gosling's unnamed character is like a cross between Travis Bickle and Ryan from The O.C., handsomely prowling Los Angeles in his heavy boots and gold bubble jacket. His journey is filmed in strikingly framed shots with artificial lighting (apparently) from mundane sources - strip lights, indoor lamps - that somehow manages to look mystical, transcendental at times. There are scenes of brutal, up-close violence which Mark Kermode likened to scenes from Gaspar Noé movies: certainly they bear some resemblance to the early death-by-fire-extinguisher section of Irreversible or the repeated car crash and aftermath segments of Enter the Void. But where Noé keeps the camera directly on the action, Refn's shots are briefer and more oblique. In other words, Drive is nowhere near as difficult to watch as the Noé comparison would suggest.
Having recently spent time driving in and around LA, I found the landscape gave me the excitement of vague familiarity and, frankly, I would have been happy just watching the scenes shot from our hero's bucket seat for minutes at a time. Fortunately for everyone else, none of these sections last long except in the less prosaic sequences where Gosling races and hides from the pursuing police like a naughty kitten intent on staying out after dark. The action builds, swells and breaks with a natural rhythm over the course of its 100 minutes, as its characters cross and backstab each other while the stakes rise along with the body count.
The only minor problem with Drive is that it's shot digitally, which means it suffers from the same distracting pixellation artefacts as other digital films. Of course that won't matter for the home video market (unless you've got a 15-foot tellly). But this was the only negative thing I could think of about Drive. It's The Fast and the Furious with guts, balls and acting; Taxi Driver plus Death Proof plus tension. Unmissable.
Picture credit: Pierrot Neron. Picture appropriated from the facebook fan page, which includes other such posters designed by the general public.