Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn has garnered the controversial reputation of making films that prioritise style over substance, evident in his most popular works like Drive and Bronson. His aesthetic choices have led many critics to the conclusion that Refn is the most stylish auteur of our generation, even though that style often leads to nothing.
Refn’s 2011 gem Drive is based on the novel by James Sallis and stars Ryan Gosling as a stunt driver in Hollywood who spends his free time making revenue through illegal sources of income. Drive is an irresistibly presented neo-noir which is not just a stylish arthouse action flick but also attempts to formulate a subtextual commentary on modernity and urban isolation.
While talking about the main character, Refn said: “I am very much drawn to men of action, people that don’t talk but react. The action defines them as characters. By having these characters silent it makes them much more dangerous, but also much more pure, romantic, and enigmatic. Their characters become an emotional expression more than anything else.”
Adding, “The darkness would not work without the light… There has to be a balance. You need one if you’re going to have the other, and that’s very important to the film. Action and violence and all those things are mechanics, so if you’re not emotionally invested they have no meaning, other than that they are very loud.”
Even though the part for the unnamed Driver went to Ryan Gosling, many other celebrities had been lined up for the fascinating project. Universal had managed to secure Hugh Jackman for the enigmatic role of the Driver, but Jackman eventually rejected the chance to work with Refn because he wanted to make the sci-fi action film Real Steel instead.
In retrospect, it all worked out because Refn found a perpetual collaborator in Gosling who delivered a spectacular performance as the Driver. Refn explained his casting choice by saying: “There are many different reasons. He’s a terrific guy, a very dear friend of mine, and a kind person. He is a superman.”
Continuing, “As an actor, he has many talents, but one of the most unique is that he’s one of the few performers who can say a thousand words without saying one word of dialogue. Expressed emotion just pours out of him without even doing anything. Very few people have ever been given that ability. You can count them on one hand.”