Movie Review: “Drive”

by Olivia Saperstein

John Fiske writes in his book Television Culture, “A representation of a car chase only makes sense in relation to all the others we have seen.” This very notion is what makes Nicolas Winding Refn’s  Drive, bewildering, as the film doesn’t ascribe to the formulas of the past. It’s mobster, meets 80’s action, meets film noir, and audiences just aren’t used to that.

Ryan Gosling plays Driver, a stuntman by day and chauffeur for big time robbery at night. What immediately insights a post-modern feeling of the self-aware is the movie’s metatheatre. While Driver is playing a Hollywood action double, he is in fact a character in an action film in reality. 

But this ain’t no Gone in 60 Seconds. Not only are most scenes shot at a tortoiselike pace, but while at the wheel, Driver (an alienating name in itself) neither smiles nor flinches, and he seems to derive no real joy out of what he is doing. His demeanor reflects the sentiment that each chase is just another day on the job, and he performs like an expert at any craft. 

Like leads in noir films such as The Maltese Falcon or Double Indemnity Driver’s neutral sobriety adds to the film’s mystery, and Refn certainly does a great job of keeping the audience guessing. 

Driver meets his neighbor Irene, played charmingly by Carrie Mulligan, and suddenly he has found meaning in his life. He loves her with distance, and takes a swing at heroism by trying to protect her husband as a reflection of that love.

Disappointingly the women in the film are still relegated to their indicative gender roles as mothers, objectified strippers, and weak victims. The character of Driver emulates a Philip Marlowe by overpowering said women only when “necessary.” But a scene in which Driver threatens female mob Blanche (Christina Hendricks),is one of the least believable in the film. 

What is different, though, is that Driver, unlike other protagonists, is not constantly sleeping with beautiful women, flexing his muscles as he drives, or partaking in smooth and hubristic dialogue. This deconstructs the idea of the Hollywood “everyman” who male viewers are supposed to subconsciously derive masculinity cues from. 

The sluggish pace surrounding chase scenes and the sparse dialogue constantly remove any glorification from the action. However these qualities only accentuate what we do experience–the splattering of crimson blood, the beautiful usage of natural and high-contrast lighting, and the seething electro soundtrack reminiscent of a Paul Brickman film.

Brian Cranston plays Shannon, mechanic who sets up Driver’s jobs, with no stretch of the imagination, but with a mind-blowing humanity that never ceases to impress.

An alluring mesh of genre that leads us to question the notion of American masculinity.


Television Culture

Postmodernism Theories and Texts

Film Noir

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