Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)

stars Ryan Gosling as a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver, his rule; when you hire him you have him for 5 minutes, anything that happens on either side of that 5 minutes isn't his problem and if you're not their in time you're on your own. This is explained in the opening dialogue as Gosling speaks to a client on his mobile finishing with "you won't be able to contact me on this phone again". Gosling as the unnamed protagonist (he's credited as Driver) picks up two crooks knocking off a warehouse and plays cat and mouse with the cops, the heist is a success and the driver never says a word or breaks a sweat. Already we are aware that our protagonist is rather good at what he does to say the least.

The Driver is a quiet man, a modest and almost passive person who seems impenetrable to fear. He drives stunt cars during the day and also works in a garage, his boss sees promise in his driving skills and borrows money off some gangster associates to get their racing dreams rolling. All seems well in the beginning and all seems well when we meet Irene (Carey Mulligan) a neighbour to Driver who he instantly takes a liking to, Irene's husband is in prison for an offence we never learn and until the point of his release Driver becomes the new father figure to Irene and her son. When the husband is released the family unit is restored and Driver backs off like a gentlemen and never seems hurt or jealous, at this point Driver (aside from being nearly mute) seems damn near perfect.

The film's equilibrium is disrupted when the husband (his street name is Standard) is beaten up and blackmailed for the depts he owes from prison, Standard is genuinely not interested in crime anymore and only in his family which is the problem as its them that will suffer if he doesn't pay up pronto. Standard agrees to do a heist that will wipe his slate clean with the help of Driver who agreed to assist after seeing Standard beaten in a pool of hi own blood and hearing his woes. Both men are on the same page, Irene and the kid must remain safe. This is the point when things get nasty and the film becomes seemingly more violent as the body count starts to mount up.

Drive is reminiscent of the George Clooney thriller The American, a heavily existential film that meditates on good and evil and a film full of archetypal characters. Drive is exactly the same on this level despite being a different kettle of fish; Drive is full of archetypal characters, director Nicolas Winding Refn has commented on the story as being a fairy tale situation and one can see where he's coming from; Driver is the Knight in shining armour, Irene is the Damsel/Princess and Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman as the gangsters are the Evil King and The Dragon. Both Drive and The American also feature lead characters that are both isolated individuals, both are precision experts at what they do but it is when they let people they care about into their lives that things start to go wrong and their professional and personal lives collide for dire consequences. The isolation of our leading man Driver is highlighted in the constant Aeriel shots of L.A. that would be right at home in Michael Mann's Heat or Collateral, the difference here however is that although being reminded of the scope of the city in which our characters dwell they might as well be the only ones in it. Drive's L.A. is a vacuous city scape that goes against the noirish tradition of a congested concrete jungle with dangers at every turn i.e. Blade Runner.

Again like The American, Drive is a film full of tried and tested genre conventions that seem to aid it rather than bury it. This is a fine line that films can tread only being saved by those involved being informed of their film's ancestry and approaching it with passion. Driver as a lead character has no back story to speak of, it is up to us the viewer to fill this in and to realise that Gosling's character is the grandson of Clint Eastwood's and Steve McQueen's character's mystique; Driver is closest to McQueen in The Getaway and Eastwood in The Dollars Trilogy, chewing on a tooth pick looking for iconic status. Maybe Driver is just as conscious of these films as we are.

Drive won Nicolas Winding Refn best director at the Cannes film festival earlier this year, an odd winner when you realise just how high this film is on the exploitation spectrum rather than the art house. The film is a treat to look at thanks to Refn's ever evolving eye but despite the inventive shots and beautiful lighting this picture is an exploitation film through and through, and so what? With Refn honing this project (Gosling was on board first and wanted Refn to direct over anyone else) it was bound to be one soaked in bloodshed, this review cannot end without discussing the extensive violence that won't kindly leave you when the film is through. Bones are broken, heads are caved in, and cutlery is forced into squeamish places, Drive is not for the easily shocked. Gosling's character is an angel, he is almost too good for this world as a selfless and caring man who wants nothing for himself and everything for his loved ones, Driver can also inflict the most brutal violence onto those who threaten to destroy his loved ones. Driver is everything he needs to be in a moment and as the 80s soundtrack repeats over the film the lyrics hint over and over that Driver might be a "perfect human being".


This could be the film that Gosling is remembered for and with a bit of help and time could enter cult status. You can instantly see why Gosling's performance has been so hyped up despite being minimalistic and subdued, this is a great example of less is more. The supporting cast are superb but nothing can take eyes off the leading man. Director Nicolas (Bronson) Refn once again shows how he is developing as a artist while remaining comfortably still in the crime genre. A beautifully shot film with sudden bursts of unforgettable violence about a man who works as a stunt man doing all the things a 'hero' should be doing while becoming a real hero in his own time. In short; you've seen it all before and you might figure out where it's all leading up to but you've never seen it like this!

For fans of: Le Samourai (1967), Vanishing Point (1971), Taxi Driver (1976), Thief (1981), The Pusher Trilogy (1996-2005), The American (2010)

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