Sometimes films don’t know exactly what they are or what they wish to be. Drive does not have that problem: the film knows exactly what it wants to be. Its a heist-gone-wrong movie which focuses on mood and tension as opposed to action and hijinks. And that mood and tension is played up to near pitch-perfect levels.
The first half of this movie is incredibly strong. Ryan Gosling plays a stunt car driver who also drives for various criminal activities. His character is quiet and aloof, but not in a cold and distant way necessarily. After all, he does develop a relationship with the girl next door (Carey Mulligan) and her son. The action scenes are filmed much like Gosling’s character; soft spoken yet incredibly intense at the same time. This is seen most strongly with the opening getaway set piece where Gosling evades a police search with two robbers in his back seat. Its not like any car chase you’ve likely seen.
The director Nicolas Refn has a great sense of how to create this bubbling tension throughout the whole movie. On the outside it may seem like a slow movie where not much happens, but when watching the film you realize that its always moving because this tension is constantly simmering to a boil.
However, the problem is that when you have a movie which is one big build up of moody anmospehere and increasing pressure, you’d better damn well deliver with a strong climax. This is Drive’s downfall, as it ends on a pretty weak note for such a strong film. And especially with the way its filmed, you as the audience are really going to be expecting a big pay-off, something both emotionally and technically driven, and hopefully something a little out of the ordinary. Instead we get a rather predictable occurrence of events which isn’t really able to break either the emotional or technical threshhold.
Now don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t mean Drive is a poor film. On the contrary, this is one of the best of the year. But that lack of a powerful ending does prevent it from reaching greatness, which it certainly had the potential to be. Nonetheless, this is an amazing exercise of using restraint to increase drama.