Never the unassuming auteur, self-taught Danish director Winding Refn has already proven himself competent in highly referential and extremely stylised filmmaking with works like Bronson and Valhalla Rising. But while these did at times stumble over their self-indulgence, Drive hits every note perfectly.
The plot is secondary to the film’s atmosphere and as such is kept pretty straightforward: the hero (Gosling), a taciturn, best-in-the-business getaway driver falls for his neighbour (Mulligan), takes part in a botched heist on her behalf and ends up battering the baddies into a bloody pulp (and boy is it bloody!) to ensure her safety.
This gives Winding Refn plenty of room to play, and the film works as an exhilarating exercise in style, a 90-minute succession of gorgeously lit, expertly choreographed scenes underscored by a pitch-perfect synthpop soundtrack.
From the opening, a lengthy and very ingeniously constructed getaway scene, the viewer is transfixed. How unspectacular it is in terms of conventional chase scenes – for one, it’s shot almost exclusively from the inside of the car – is testament to the scene’s masterful direction, engrossing the viewer in every second of the action.
This is true of the entire film and by the final close-up (of half a million) on Gosling’s face as he lies wounded in his car, possibly dead, you’ll find yourself shamelessly praying for that eyelid to flutter.
Drive | Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (USA 2011) with Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan. Starts January 26