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Drive (2011,USA)

01/02/2012

Director: Nicholas Winding Refn       Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks

There’s nothing like a film getting an idiot all riled up to make me more interested in seeing it. In the case of Drive though, which I already wanted to see on the basis of the trailer and the name “Nicholas Winding Refn” appearing next to the Director credit, the effect (presumably genuine even though it seems like it shoud be a publicity stunt or at least an apocryphal tale) it had on one viewer was enough to make me really want to see it. You can read about the idiotic law suit filed by a member of the American public here but to cut a short story shorter, a lady went to see the movie which she had assumed (supposedly on the basis of the trailer) would be a Fast & The Furious style brainless action flick but which actually turned out to be a cerebral, existentialist thriller instead (my words not hers). Of course had she known anything about Refn and his films she would have known that his films have a track record of being far more than they seem and being marketed as straightforward genre pictures when in fact they are something much more interesting.

The nameless driver (Gosling, in a man-with-no-name nod to Ryan O’Neal’s character in Walter Hill’s The Driver) is a movie stunt driver and car mechanic by day, moonlighting as a getaway driver for hire by night. He’s a seasoned professional, working to his own rules, marching to his own drummer and keeping himself to himself, that is until he finds himself drawn to his neighbour Irene (Mulligan) When a job goes wrong, jeopardising Irene’s safety and that of her young son, he finds himself on the wrong side of some very bad people.

That’s really as much detail as I feel comfortable revealing about the plot, far better to see the film yourself and enjoy it’s carefully paced reveals as the story unfolds. One thing is for certain here, The Fast & The Furious this most certainly is not. What Refn has served up is another carefully thought out sermon on the violent nature of man, this time with a Western/Samurai flavour that would make Leone or Kurosawa proud. The driver is an anti-hero in the Eastwood mould, a man whose moral compass is slightly adrift and yet who lives by a strict code and is driven by a powerful sense of natural justice. So it is then, that in his professional capacity as getaway driver he is the picture of zen like calm, abhorring violence, taking as few risks as possible but when the line is crossed and other people stop playing by the rules he is prepared to go to extreme lengths to set things right.

It’s this desire to see the wrongdoers suitably punished that is the cue for Refn’s trademark brutal violence. Sporadic, graphic and pretty shocking, even by today’s desensitized standards, the violent scenes punctuating the slow burning story like brutal and bloody exclamation marks. Don’t be fooled (I’d hate for you to sue anyone for misrepresenting the film) into thinking it’s some kind of blood and guts action extravaganza though. It isn’t. It’s just that when the violence comes Refn is neither half hearted nor shy about showing it in all its visceral savagery.

As for driving, there are a couple of chase scenes, the best being his calm and careful getaway from a heist that manages to be extremely tense, oozing threat despite the lack of squealing tyre car chase conventions. Or maybe it’s because of this, maybe the cliches of on screen car chases have become the preserve of mediocre action adventure films and the freshness of approach here is what makes it exciting. Either way, it’s certainly got more than enough driving in it to justify the title. It’s really a character driven (sorry) film though, about the elemental nature of human beings and their relationships rather than cars and shooting, even if it is set to a fantastically appropriate electro pop soundtrack and brash neon pink titles that give the whole thing the feel of a mid eighties Michael Mann endeavour.

The burgeoning affair between the driver and Irene is at the heart of everything, proving the catalyst for the plot and for the revelation of the driver’s true nature and Gosling and Mulligan pull off their tentative chemistry beautifully. Their scenes are quiet, light on dialogue but rich in feeling and dependent on Refn’s sharp, cinematic eye and the principles’ acting chops for the visual cues that fill in the spaces in the dialogue. Bryan Cranston is also very good as the driver’s fixer (after four seasons of the phenomenal Breaking Bad, Cranston is scaling the acting league table in my opinion – he’s come a long way since Malcolm In The Middle) and Albert Brooks jovial yet supremely sinister mob boss is another high point in a film full of them.

Drive is a brutal, beautiful, melancholic entry in Refn’s body of work and stands as further testimony to his prowess as a filmmaker. And even if you don’t believe me that he’s one of the greatest directors working today then consider this: he’s also the first person in a decade to say “Fuck” live on the BBC before lunchtime after an appearance on BBC Breakfast to promote the film, precisely the sort of straight talking irreverence I rather enjoy. Just don’t tell Sarah Deming, she might just add that to her law suit too.

I’m not going to post the usual trailer here. Go watch the film instead!!

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