Time waits for no one, not even the best movies ever made. And so it’s with profound nostalgia that we recently realized it’s been just over a decade since Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive came out in September 2011. Hindsight is always perfect, and now we know the 2005-2015 era was a golden age of cinema, straddling a “goldilocks” region between the rise of the mega-blockbuster (think King Kong, Iron Man, Transformers, Avatar, and many others), and the emergence of streaming as the main way of consuming content.
For a little while, about ten years, movies were at their prime because of the lack of meaningful competition from streaming, and we got some of the best works in the medium during that heyday. The influx of cash and technology brought on by the blockbusters helped smaller productions get made, and Drive is definitely one film that looks and feels way more deluxe than its modest budget would suggest.
Drive is also one of the best movies ever made, in our opinion. Story, characters, pacing, length, action, visuals, and of course the mind-blowingly good soundtrack all combine to deliver perfection. If you asked us for something bad to say about Drive we’d be stumped.
Sadly, there’s no 4K version of Drive. The best you can hope for is the 1080p Blu-ray, which we recommend you obtain before it goes out of print. Drive makes for a superb big-screen viewing experience if you have a home cinema projector at hand. And luckily, the 1080p disc is of such good mastering quality that if your Blu-ray player can upscale you’ll be getting something that looks very close to native 4K.
Ryan Gosling plays a character known only as “kid” or “driver”. He’s a stunt driver for Hollywood movies and also works for a mechanic called Shannon, played by Bryan Cranston at the height of his Breaking Bad success. Driver also doubles as a professional getaway driver for criminals at night and develops a relationship with his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos). Meanwhile, Irene’s husband Standard Gabriel comes back from prison, played by the always-excellent Oscar Isaac. Things get complicated when they all become involved in a plot hatched by organized crime figures (Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks), with a guest appearance by Christina Hendricks, who was moonlighting during the height of her own show, Mad Men.
For an indie release, Drive featured tons of talent and a superb story by Hossein Amini, based on a novel by the same name from James Sallis.
Drive takes place in a surreal version of early 2010s Los Angeles. While modern, influences from the 1960s and 1980s abound, especially with regards to clothing and cars. This movie looks amazing thanks to photography by Newton Thomas Sigel, with every frame and sequence serving a clear purpose.
It’s also the best Ryan Gosling movie ever by our estimation, almost matched by First Man, but not quite. Gosling’s contemplative, often overly-stoic demeanor in this picture is terrifically memorable and looks spectacular on a big screen. The sweeping vistas of LA at night as contrasted by sunny relaxed scenes match the similar contrast between heartfelt happiness and brutal violence, all depicted with equal adeptness. For a film running just shy of 100 minutes, Drive gets a lot done.
And then there are the cars. If you’re a fan of car movies, Drive needs to be on your list. It’s up there with Vanishing Point and Bullitt, with several direct references to both.
We’ll never forget sitting in the theater back in September 2011, hearing A Real Hero by College and Electric Youth for the first time. We were dumbstruck, and apparently many other people were, too. The synth-heavy, melodic electronic music of Drive sets the perfect mood and doesn’t need many words to describe it, you just need to hear it if you haven’t yet. When watching Drive at your home movie theater room, please make sure you have a good audio setup. The soundtrack demands it. As do the sound effects, most notably any that emanate from cars. Engines, exhausts, and brakes all come through with pristine detail.
Minimalist and spectacular at the same time, Drive is a maudlin yet uplifting remembrance from a time gone by, a time that was only a decade ago but feels like centuries past. It’s a perfect cinematic package and the best work achieved by director Winding Refn, who since then has been relatively quiet, mostly known for appearing in video game Death Stranding.
In tribute to Drive’s minimal approach, we’ll just say watch this movie. If you’ve watched it, do so again.
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