Whatever caused Driver (Ryan Gosling) to become who he is will never be explained in Drive. There’s this fascinating look in his eyes as he enters conversations, staring intently as if he either has to control himself or enter a deep rooted thought process. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t say much of anything.
It’s enough to gain the affections of a young girl, either enamored by his wholly unique personality or she just knows how to pick ’em. Her son’s father is in prison, Driver works for anyone who will pay him to drive.
There’s never a need to know why he’s able to do what he does, doubling as a part time stuntman and mechanic. The point is that he does it better than anybody, and can perform under any conditions. Chased by police and overhead helicopters as the movie begins, Driver never so much as flinches or breaks a sweat. This is something he was meant to do, if only under his rigid restrictions.
The girl changes everything, intertwining him inadvertently with cross-country mafia and local small timers. There’s a million dollars on the line, along with the lives of girl he’s falling for and her son. That’s his focus; the money is meaningless. Until it breaks out, or Driver breaks out, Drive is a quiet, unassuming movie, arthouse for the non-arthouse crowd.
Directed and photographed with vintage sensibilities and daring authenticity, few films anymore have this much patience with the lens, even less so in the editing room. Drive savors its set ups and soaks up the performances, demanding viewers appreciate it for more than its vivid action.
The violence will come, but only after director Nicolas Winding Refn finds the build-up sufficient. Driver has a brooding, deep-rooted anger that is unleashed in vicious outbursts. This film seems to adore pain, relishing in blood and broken bones as if it’s celebrating Driver’s ability to unleash whatever demons he had restricted before. It’s gruesome, uncontrolled, and raw, breaking this character out of his collected, almost naïve shell for flourishes of brutality.
Drive is too simple on its surface, a non-traditional Hollywood romance wrapped up in a botched heist, yet there’s so much under that. Drive adds grit, interest, and style to a beautifully robust visual facade, creating a film that is never anything less than utterly absorbing.
Captured on a variety of digital devices, Drive comes together with a definition-laden AVC encode, brought down from a 2K source. Resolution pours from this piece, enough to bring forth exquisite textural detail and a consistent, tight sharpness. Sony’s compression is pure and unnoticed, capturing the clarity afforded to digital with none of the after effects of home media down conversion.
Drive isn’t perfectionism though. Much of the movie is draped in noise, scattering walls distractingly and jumping around as if it wants to be noticed. There seems to be little control over it, and for what it can add in perceived grit, it can quickly eliminate some of the life from these beautifully captured, static angles.
Night brings with it a wildly non-distinctive palette, deadened by an abusive orange and teal scheme that is everything other than appealing. It’s pushed even as it doesn’t make any sense considering light sources, a far cry from the generally bright primaries that load the screen elsewhere. Flesh tones, unless they’re playing in the orange/teal zone, carry a pleasingly rendered hue. There’s no attempt to bronze them outside of specific scenes.
If the disc excels anywhere though, it’s in the black levels. Gosling’s nighttime runs are bathed in darkness, the intention of the photography preserved. There’s a definite strength to the darkest areas of the image, rounding out a successful dimensional push. This is a hard transfer to dislike.
So much of the audio design relies on silence then a fade-in (of fade-out) or music that would seem as if this isn’t much for the home theater, and nothing is further from the truth. Song selections here are wonderfully melodic and pure, bursting at the seams with fidelity, peaked highs, and droning lows. The soundtrack has a vibrancy that is crucial given its place in the film.
That silence is easy to take for granted. Drive lashes out during its action scenes, an impact-loaded shotgun assault in a hotel dominating the listener with bass and appropriate aggression. Every shot counts for something, so strong that they carry meaning.
Car chases can be the same, the usual bumps greeted with lively LFE activity, balanced by screeching metal in the highs. Engines will swerve through the stereos or directly overhead, much like the helicopter during the opening scene. This DTS-HD mix loves to play nice in tandem with the action, just as it should.
I Drive begins a series of overly padded featurettes, this one a little over five minutes as a general making-of. Under the Hood covers the cast, but doesn’t even start until a minute of movie footage rolls on by. Driver and Irene details the relationship and chemistry between the leads, while Cut to the Chase details the driving. Drive Without a Driver is a 26-minute interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn. Sony pads this one with plentiful trailers and BD-Live.