Monday 26 September 2011

Review: Drive

Year: 2011
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenplay: Hossein Amini
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Albert Brooks.

Synopsis is here:

If I wanted to act clever; when talking about Drive, I'd say something along the lines of: A brutal symphony, tinged with flecks of 80's nostalgia and machismo. But people who read this blog often should know that smarts aren't my strong point. Hell, I'm not even sure what I just said makes a lick of sense, so it's probably best to say that I felt Drive was a damn fine piece of Trash.

It's a film that clearly knows it's style over substance (there's really not much too it in terms of subtext) but WHAT style. Old school car chases (you know ones where you can see what's going on), unsubtle overblown moments in slow motion and brutality that one could describe as hyper violence.  Huff Post writer and prominent blogger Scott Mendelson hated the movie and likened it to a direct to DVD feature. However, I disagree entirely. Unlike many direct to DVD films, Drive doesn't mince words and puts its visuals, sense of place and tone to good use. Like Mendelson I don't see any underlying symbolism but I don't think the film is trying to hand any and it's all the better for it.

Drive appears like a throwback to Bullett. We have a strong silent "hero", whose intentions are good but morals are cloudy. It's easy to get frustrated at the films desire to eschew dialogue in place of lingering glances and thoughtful pauses, at first I found the film a tad clumsy with the films characters and their initial meetings with Gosling coming across a little awkward at first. However as the film goes on, the actors, their characters and the film begin to fit in their skin. We see moments involving Gosling's Driver and Carey Mulligan's Irene pretending to act like a normal family or relationship. We know this is not true throughout and I do believe it shows in the acting. From the tenuous smiles to the faux small talk we sense a connection but one that may be tragic. It great to see a relationship develop like this without the need to frivolous, throwaway trite dialogue.

It would be easy to dismiss Gosling's Driver as having a lack of backstory, however the film informs us of everything we need to know about the character in other ways. Listen to how his boss Shannon (a wonderfully on form Bryan Crannston) talks about how this drive literally dropped from the sky, look at the bare walls of the drivers apartment and how he lives (particularly at his simple rules as a getaway driver). Most importantly the films last moments involving the driver do sum up the characters life, relationships and how they interact when placed together with everything else placed together. No the film is not "deep" in the way I would describe something like Tree of Life is (or wishes to be if your a detractor) and lets not fool ourselves into thinking that this is ground breaking cinema but Drive, like Hanna, is taking generic genre tropes and taking them in different directions. It's 80's style soundtrack and slick visual style (one that does feel like a Euro director filming in America) mixed with an almost teenage angst and hardcore violence do make it stand out and the mixture of actors and direction do give it it's own voice. Compare this to something like Takers which truly wears it's generic elements on it's sleeve and I do feel you can see Drives clear strengths.

Gosling and Mulligan grow into their roles (still not fully getting the love), while Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman take pleasure in their antagonistic parts. The cast all work well, although I'm very disappointed at the fact that Christina Hendricks has even less to do than Mulligan. The star of the film however I feel, is the action. Like Hanna, we are given well executed, expertly handled set pieces (the beginning reminds me of the "slow car chase" of way of the gun at points) which grind and crunch as well as gearboxes that get worn down. Every violent act carries real weight, unlike the films pace which unlike the last Refn film I watched (Bronson) is far more breezy than I expected.

I, like so many others loved Drive, it's as brash and ballsy as the muscle cars it exhibits. It's polished design is light years away from the chaos cinema we've seen so much of in recent cinema. An old school action film with art house strands that keeps things simple and the entertainment high.