Like a 70s film set in the 80s, the music on the soundtrack almost made me gag. Despite this, I vastly enjoyed the slick, easy going surface of this beautifully shot thriller.
Playing something like a slow burn drama for the first two thirds, Gosling, despite his relative youth and slight build, is just about probable as the strong and silent archetype that has been around since the inter-war years of the last century. A man with talent and charm, he is quick to catch the eye of a pretty neighbour whose husband is currently inside. His gentlemanly behaviour gives an innocence to their relationship so that when the husband returns and Gosling's nameless driver steps back and helps in his way to keep the family together, it doesn't seem out of place.
After these moments and the seedy LA underworld asserts itself, we find ourselves more in Refn territory. Whilst hardly close to the visceral grit of the Pusher films or Valhalla Rising, there are moments of ugly violence from which the camera doesn't shy away, and even when guns are involved there is a proximity that brings urgency to these sequences, of the consequences of gunshots, stab wounds and savage beatings.
Like the best of the genre, Drive has an admirable supporting cast who breathe life into the periphery, including Ron Perlman as an arrogant Jewish gangster operating for the mob out of a pizza restaurant, and his business partner and ex-movie producer played by Albert Brooks. Carey Mulligan is as good as ever, and with an inevitably less meaty part she works well at conveying the connection and emotions that pass between her and the driver, a relationship acknowledged with looks rather than words. Brooks has few credits for things I've seen besides his voice roles, but he did play Tom the square in Taxi Driver, a film I was reminded of now and again watching Drive. As a loner character Gosling's hero is too pleasant to be God's Lonely Man, but there is an element of psychosis pushing him forward which gives the film's title a double meaning. The film's opening sequences too, bring to mind the taxi scenes, tightly shot from within the front seat of the vehicle, though in Drive the whole screen seems tight, emphasising the driver's focus and control over the surroundings as he negotiates the central nervous system of Los Angeles' roadways.
Aside from the violence, Drive marks a swerve away from the likes of Valhalla Rising, which very much brooded on landscape, memory and purpose whilst here the story is all, with nothing else to say besides a man changing his ways to accommodate newfound love, and stumbling because it wasn't part of the plan, and because of his inflexibility. Here, though, there is little of the introspective grief at a different life lost, of plans gone awry. Instead there is acceptance.