A few thoughts on Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, an art house character study wrapped in a violent crime drama and advertised as a high-speed action movie:
Sharp-minded viewers will appreciate a direct reference made at one point in this movie to The Scorpion and the Frog, a Panchatantran fable illustrating the irrepressibility of one's true nature, a theme that's startlingly made in Drive. In more cinematic terms, one might describe Drive as Unforgiven set in modern Los Angeles, at least in how it pertains to the central character's noble attempt but tragic failure to smother his violent propensities.
Gosling's performance is a mesmerizing and deeply internalized portrait, his blue eyes (at times as penetrating as Paul Newman's) offering us only the slightest clues of his hidden turmoil. Other strong supporting turns come via Carey Mulligan, Brian Cranston, and especially a cleverly cast Albert Brooks, acting against type in a juicy villain role.
Refn directs his picture in bold stokes, sometimes opting for odd aesthetic choices, but on the whole, it really works. To modulate tension he effectively uses sound and silence, not to mention Cliff Martinez's synthesizer-heavy score. Visually, the city of L.A. is stylishly conveyed through Newton Thomas Sigel's luminous photography. Mat Newman's editing is perhaps more varied and interesting than any I've seen in years, making excellent use of dissolves and cross-fading. Naturally, the action scenes are expertly assembled as well, particularly one chase which would give that famous sequence from Bullitt a run for its money.
**** out of ****