Cannes Movie Review: Drive (2011)

Ryan Gosling in Drive
Photo: FilmDistrict

As blood dripped down Ryan Gosling's face in director Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive the Cannes audience couldn't help but laugh. It wasn't a laugh as a result of something funny, it was a laugh of relief as this year's Cannes Film Festival has offered an abundance of diversity and Drive appears to be the aggressive, head-stomping capstone. But as violent and intense as this film can be, it has its share of honest laughs and silent moments, making for the best film I saw at this year's festival. As far as who deserves the credit -- sit back -- there are a lot of kudos to be handed out.

Grade: A+

Drive"Drive" is a FilmDistrict release, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and is rated R for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity. The running time is .

The cast includes Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman.

Let's begin with Ryan Gosling, who turns in stoic and steely performance as Driver, an auto mechanic, Hollywood stuntman and potential stock car racer that occasionally moonlights as a criminal getaway driver. Yeah, he keeps himself busy. Stone-faced and nearly emotionless, Gosling creates a character that's calm and cool under pressure, methodical, focused and reliable and, of course, one hell of a driver.

We're witness to Driver's skills at the outset, though this opening scene is merely a taste of what the film has to offer in terms of action-based entertainment, but it's as good a start as any. As the scene comes to a close Refn makes way for the opening titles, which are scrawled in the same font used for Prince's Purple Rain, which is only appropriate considering Refn's frequent use of '80s-esque pop music, a trend he welcomingly continues with Drive.

However, just as much as this film enjoys the unique punch given by its score and song selection, much can also be gleaned from what isn't heard. Driver isn't prone to mindless chatter and his character's silence harkens back to the rock hard heroes and anti-heroes played by the likes of Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood. Men of action not words. Driver is that man, even in his more intimate moments as we come to know his lovely next-door neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan).

Irene lives at home with her son Benicio (Kaden Leos) while her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), sits in prison. Irene and Driver share an immediate, though innocent, connection, and as they grow closer to one another so does he to Benicio.

I'd be remiss if I didn't stop for a moment here to mention the scenes Gosling and Mulligan share. Primarily silent in terms of dialogue, these are scenes where more is said when nothing's said at all. I can't for the life of me think of a romance (maybe Before Sunset?) that placed so much confidence in so little being said. It's an absolute understanding of human communication by both screenwriter Hossein Amini and Refn and a lot of filmmakers and screenwriters could learn from it.

Getting back to the details, the mood shifts when Standard gets out of prison as Driver is now on the outside looking in, but not for long as Standard owes some bad people a lot of money and in an attempt to help clear him of his debt and keep Irene and Benicio safe, Driver agrees to serve as wheelman during a pawn shop hold up. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, the heist goes incredibly wrong, leading to one hell of a car chase sequence that ultimately concludes with the image of Gosling's blood-splattered face I mentioned in the opening. It's ten minutes that are as entertaining as anything else I've seen at the fest over the last nine days.

Now, with a duffle bag of cash in his possession and a need to keep himself and those he cares for safe, Driver must figure out how he's going to turn the tide to his favor. Not one to mince words, Driver picks up a hammer and introduces another man to his a shoe as it pounds on his face over, and over, and over, and over again. If you thought Jessica Alba got beat up in The Killer Inside Me, I wonder what your impression of this poor bloke's demise will be.

It must be said, though, Drive isn't a one-man show. In fact, supporting performances by Albert Brooks (Broadcast News), Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") and Ron Perlman (Cronos) are all excellent, each bringing their own bit of flavor to the feature.

Cranston plays Shannon, Driver's manager/boss, as something of a bottom feeder with a dream. He sets him up on a few getaway gigs, oversees his stunt work and employs him at his auto shop. His noticeable limp comes as a result of being on the wrong side of the criminal underworld in the past, which means he's taking a risk once again when he decides to ask Bernie Rose (Brooks) for some money to help fund a stock car racing team with Driver behind the wheel.

Brooks is a gem as Rose. He's a wheeler and dealer with shady backers and when he decides to help Shannon out he does so by bringing in mob boss wannabe Nino played by Ron Perlman who takes advantage at every opportunity to play this character over the top and with each instance you only want to see more. The scenes with Perlman and Brooks together are perfect, one of them ending with blood and an "adieu" that had the audience rolling.

Finally, we come to Refn, a director I can't get enough of since seeing Bronson two years ago, a film I will never grow tired of. Refn is a no apologies kind of director. He puts on screen what he wants, not what focus groups determined sells best. His are films major Hollywood studios won't make, but will pilfer for new talent as they did when Christopher Nolan snatched up Bronson's Tom Hardy for Inception.

The signature on Drive is all Refn, from the music down to the mood. He strips his films down to the point they don't exactly hit reality, but a hyper-reality where you can at once connect to the characters, but also revel in the entertainment of its absurdity. Refn's talents know no limits, his combination of action-packed bloody mayhem tied with his patience to include appropriately lengthy moments of silence show a director in control of his environment. Add to that a continually impressive talent for casting the right people and you have a film you will want to watch over and over again.


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  • Ugueth


  • criterion10

    An A+!...I'm interested in seeing this... Do you think this has a shot at winning the palme d'or?

    • Brad Brevet

      At this point I think a lot of films have a chance at winning. The field is so diverse I can't quite figure out what's going to take it. Frontrunners are probably The Artist and Le Havre, the latter I did not see.

      • criterion10

        Ah, ok. I'm interested to see myself what the winner will be when its announced.

  • Gary James

    Interesting ,is this a take on Ryan o,neals 1970,s. Movie drive ? Or of no comparison brad ?

    • Brad Brevet

      It's an adaptation of James Sallis's book of the same name.

  • Matt

    Great review, Brad! I really can't wait to see this film- it's safe to say it is now my second most anticipated film of the year after "Super 8." And the use of 80s pop makes me very happy, that genre is a huge guilty pleasure for me.

    One question though- I know Film District has this film slated for release in September, but is that for a wide release? I really hope so, I'd love to be able to see this film in theaters.

    • Brad Brevet

      Not sure what the theatrical release will look like, probably the same as Insidious.

      • Matt

        Alright that's great! Hopefully I will be able to see it then. Thanks!

  • Beautifulm

    That's great to hear it is one of my most anticipated of the year. I hope you had a great time at Cannes Brad.

  • Frank

    Yessssss! A+! I'm a fan of Goslings movies so I'm really happy to see this got a good review from you.

  • Graham

    How was Christina Hendricks?

    • Brad Brevet

      She was fine, but she's hardly in the film.

  • Nick

    This review made my day, incredibly happy to hear it might be THAT good. Easily in my Top 3 of most anticipated movies this year, along with Tree of Life and Hugo Cabret.

  • Alejandro Roggio

    I never really saw Ryan Gosling as that good of an actor. His roles are always pretty much the same, but he recently seems to be branching out. Not only did he play that psycho husband from hell in All Good Things, but he is playing a "Hitch"-like playboy in "Crazy, Stupid, Love", a political campaign manager in "The Ides of March" and a badass action star in "Drive" all in the same year. Ryan Gosling is becoming very versatile. I can see him with an Oscar some day.

    • carrie

      Gosling in LARS AND THE REAL GIRL or in THE BELIEVER or in THE NOTEBOOK or in BLUE VALENTINE is the same character?

      • Hamza Zain

        Don't forget Half Nelson, seeing as he was nominated for an Oscar for it.

  • Central Ohio

    Brad, that's two 'A+'s in two months. I really liked 'Hanna'. Maybe not as much as you did but it's still one of the better thing's so far to come out this year.

    Can't wait for this one! Great review.

  • Liathach

    However good Drive is, it sounds like it's too much of a genre movie and not arty enough to win the Palme d'Or.

  • Jack

    So, Drive or Hanna?

  • Tommy

    Holy crap, I thought this was going to turn out to be another 'The Mechanic/Transporter' type of movie, but an A+? Really?! I was expecting a B-, at MOST. I'm excited for this one now.

  • Hoink Douglas

    When you originally stated Drive was the best film you saw in Cannes, I thought "well i'm done with this site." Of course i hadn't seen it yet and had a run in with the head of Bold Films who turned me off from seeing it. But on the final day of replays I gave in, and thank god i did. I was expecting Refn to make a Hollywood Movie but the fact is Hollywood made a Refn Film and it was incredible. Only film that resonated more with me was We Need To Talk About Kevin but i most certainly will see them both again with a wide release.

  • Brian

    This looks awesome. Gosling is a fantastic actor, check out the Slaughter Rule. I hope this really is an A+ film. I give Hanna a B- for effort with a miniscule budget. No way in hell Hanna is better than the Bourne Ultimatum or Quantum of Solace. Drive seems like an original film that resonates with tension and thrills. Refn knows his craft, just watch Bronson.

  • Aaron S

    To each his own. I'd give it a C+. I agree that Nicolas Winding Refn is a director to champion, in that he seems to make no compromises and pushes the boundaries of his craft. But Drive never seems to find its footing, in my opinion, trying to be several different genres all at once. And while I appreciate the effort, I felt very let down when it was all said and done.

    • JoeC

      This. Exactly this.

      Loved the action bits, but the rest of the movie was akin to swimming in oatmeal. Slllllloooooowwwwwww.

      And if he knows he's gonna get shanked at the end, why go at all? Why not keep the money, take the girl and the kid and go far away? It's not like he had anything holding him to that area.

      I understand why film critics like it. But for ordinary viewers, I think you will be bored.

  • Mr. Bean

    Drive was incredible. Saw it at a screening and I will definitely go see it again. Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks are the best.

  • AKD

    Just saw it at a special screening here in Houston and I couldn't agree more! Awesome flick

  • Llama

    Saw it in Houston, and I was very surprised. There were parts that reminded me of Bronson, mostly dialogue delivery, but the fast paced scenes were just so well executed without prolonging the action to keep it as a drama film. I hope it gets some sort of recognition at the Oscars

  • Josh

    wow i was completley expecting this to bomb and be forgotten about by the end of the year, the plot looks so overdone ive reminded me of transporter or all the other action car chase movies. I may have to watch it now after an A+ but then i again i dont always agree with critics as a critic review is simply someones opinion and everybody has there own opinions and taste in movies. If im not mistaken Shutter Island got a great review on here so i watched it and afterwards felt like i wasted a couple hours of my life, i saw the ending coming less than halfway through the movie. Ill give it a go, hope im not dissapointed.

  • Prasad

    Brad, we in India got to see this only recently. And I thought the cinematography choices - especially lighting of the scenes - were very interesting. Most of the scenes portrayed Gosling's face in dark. We only see his face fully lighted in the second half of the movie when we have understood his real character - so to speak. Also the scene where Mulligan tells him her husband is coming home, the way it is shot with Gosling in focus and Mulligan in background. What are your thoughts about it?

  • Melon

    I'll give "A-", the plot of the movie seems alright, but in the end the garage owner just turned into an idiot all of the sudden. Ryan and Carey did very well and so does the little kid.

  • ALEX

    PERFECTION!!!!!!!! LOVED EVERYTHING ABOUT IT :)very diff from the normal 'guy gets the girl,everyone lives happily ever after'movies...1 of my fav movies in a long time.&can i just say 'Ryan Gosling is YUMMY in this..hehehehe

  • Topy

    It's a B- for me..a bit too slow I guess.

  • Nathan

    The font used in the Drive title is Mistral, which is different then the custom lettering done for Purple Rain. Great review though.