Directed by Danish Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive a film of a very specific sort of beauty. The aesthetic is very detached, but it is that very detachment that manages to help us identify with the protagonist of the film, because he himself is coldly detached. The movie follows a man whose major characterization is driving around and listening to pop music.
We never learn the name of the protagonist driver, played by Ryan Gosling. Like the stereotypical western Man with No Name, the driver is more an archetype than an actual character. We aren’t meant to identify with the driver so much as watch him in a way that is as detached as the way he no doubt experiences the world. He is almost always calm and collected. What we learn throughout the course of the movie is that when that self-control is lost, the man is a beast, willing to perform any act to get revenge or justice.
All this is filmed with transcendent beauty and style. If one is to simply describe the plot of Drive, it may be possible to sell the movie, but to entirely the wrong audience. The movie transcends its genre of heist-movie-turned-revenge-thriller completely, the same way that Ryan Gosling’s character transcends that of a common criminal (which he is, talented though he may be). Certain scenes, which would be nothing short of disgusting, are instead breathtakingly beautiful. This isn’t because they are filmed in slow motion, which they sometimes are. Slow motion is typically done to be cool, to show masterful precision on the part of the characters, to show their straining muscles in great detail. One gets the impression that when this is used in Drive, it is rather to show that time really does seem to slow in intense moments.
The soundtrack, which consists largely of slow, deliberate pop songs, fits perfectly with the setting and the characterization. The music, also, transcends the confines of its genre when coming into play with the images on the screen, creating very memorable sequences where the music and the visuals are inseparable.
The supporting actors are worth noting as well – Carey Mulligan plays the love interest for the protagonist in a way that appropriately expresses a genuine fragility. The part is tough because in truth she isn’t given very much to do in the film, she needs to play in a fairly confined role of a very confined woman. However, the character comes off as very real in her portrayal, which is certainly commendable. The other characters are similarly confined in their roles, but none come off as unconvincing. Ron Perlman is, as usual, very enjoyable in his role as a gangster who was never accepted the way he wanted to be due to his ethnicity.