To begin, its important to note that Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, is not a Hollywood action film, nor is it trying to be. The film knows exactly what it is. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, who has never released a film produced in the United States before this one, is far from a “Hollywood” director. Upon receiving the leading role, Gosling was allowed to handpick the director and he decided on Refn. The only film directed by Refn that I have seen was his second English-language flick Bronson, starring Tom Hardy (Inception, Layer Cake). Bronson, much like Drive, focuses largely on the subtle art of implementing visual imagery and symbolism to accentuate the film’s story. You won’t find mind-numbing plot twists or extravagant visual effects being used as stimulation within the film. Instead, you’ll find colors, symbols, and a minimalist’s approach to the dialogue. If you look to action movies strictly for high-volume entertainment, Drive is not for you. In addition, if seeing caved-in skulls and brains all over the wall isn’t your thing, Drive is not for you. This film in particular is simply an extremely subtle commentary on the nature of life and primal instinct. To compliment the visual stimulation and suspenseful nature of the movie, Refn implements a unique soundtrack. Using slow, 80’s style music to contrast the action sequences adds a refreshing element to the film and helps it keep its distance from the typical high-octane Hollywood action flicks.
The film displays a few interesting recurring motifs and themes. The most important among them being the symbol of the scorpion. Gosling’s character sports an out-dated, white racing jacket for most of the film and on the back of the jacket is an embroidered scorpion. From the very start of the film, Refn wants the audience to associate the driver with the creature he proudly represents. In fact, both Driver and the film in general are meant to act as a scorpion would. The film moves at a methodical pace. Slowly inching and stepping around until it feels its time for a lethal strike. Gosling’s character acts in a congruent manner. He walks and talks at a borderline glacial speed, but when the showdown time comes, he strikes viciously.
The second most-important motif seemed to be the idea of luck, and its role in our world. This theme is referenced multiple times. Refn uses things such as a rabbit’s foot dangling from the ignition and a few well-placed lines of dialogue to embody luck’s role. The idea that no matter how meticulously planned our actions are, luck can swing the result any which way it chooses, is one that is clearly represented in the film.
The only acknowledgement of the scorpion motif within the film itself comes when Gosling brings up the story of the “Scorpion and the Frog”. This is an old fable of unknown origin which describes a pact made between a Scorpion and a Frog. The Scorpion pleads with the Frog to carry it across a river on its back. The Frog asks, “but how do I know you will not sting me?”. The Scorpion responds, “If I sting you, you will die and I will drown in the river.” The Frog agrees, and sure enough halfway across the river, the Scorpion stings the Frog. When asked why he did it, the Scorpion replies that it is his nature. The Scorpion also says that “it is better we should both perish than that my enemy should live.” The fable is used to exemplify that among some creatures, behavior is uncontrollable, and that their primal instincts will take over regardless of the consequences. Clearly, Refn’s referencing of this fable is his last acknowledgment that the protagonist is in fact the scorpion. Even Driver’s actions in the final scene live up to the mindset of the Scorpion. This movie is less about driving, and more about the animalistic drive within us all.
Our nameless main character (Gosling), referred to strictly by either “driver” or “kid”, is a walking homage to bad-ass action stars of our past. His silent but deadly demeanor can’t help but evoke memories of Steve McQueen in Bullitt. His leather gloves summon images of Arnold in Terminator. The clenching of his jaw and fists serve as a tribute to Sly Stallone. However THIS character demands a subtlety that only a truly great actor could deliver without seeming bland. Gosling performs magically. With the character having barely any emotional response to what goes on around him, Gosling is forced to create suspense himself. An extremely difficult task, and yet he succeeds admirably. With every calculated enunciation, look, or smirk, Gosling creates a mystique that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat despite the slow pace of the film as a whole. This really being the first pure action role of his career, I was once again thoroughly impressed. Gosling’s talent has shone through in little-seen Indie films such as The Believer, Half-Nelson, and Lars and the Real Girl and it seems now that his time has come for superstardom. With Drive and the approaching Ides of March becoming Oscar season players early, Gosling’s stock has never been higher. When examining just exactly what it was that made Gosling’s natural charm so perfect for this role, I said to myself, “nothing would be more poetic…” And sure enough, there it was confirmed on my computer screen: “Born: November 12, 1980″… Which would make him a Scorpio.
Overall grade: B+