Dir. by Nicolas Winding Refn
You ever go into a movie theater with really high expectations, knowing you’re going to like the movie you’re about to see? And then you get the surprise of people walking out of the theater during the movie? AND, as it turns out, the movie not only meets your expectations but exceeds them wildly? Well, yep - that was my experience with Refn’s latest film, Drive
First off, Drive
is not a crime movie. Nor is it a Fast and the Furious
ripoff. Rather, it’s an amazingly well-done, poignant, even-handed, brutally violent homage to 80’s action films, done by a European art-film type of director. The main character of the driver (Ryan Gosling who spends most of the film in mute, passive silence) is never named, universalizing his story into the fantasy wish-fulfillment that action films typically fill for most males. He’s a film stunt driver by day, under the sponsorship of old-vet Shannon (Bryan Cranston). But like many others around him, the driver becomes a means to an end as Shannon has bigger NASCAR dreams on the driver’s talent - he just needs money. So that’s where the local gangsters step in, in the form of the personable, slick crime boss Bernie (Albert Brooks - yes, that Albert Brooks) and his brutal partner Nino (Ron Perlman).
However, at the same time, the driver befriends his next-door neighbor, single-mom/waitress Irene (Carey Mulligan). Her husband, Standard, is in prison and her son is her only companion so Irene is understandably lonely. The driver’s quiet calm reassures her and their friendship starts to move ever closer to romantic - until news of her husband’s early parole comes in. Standard is a good enough guy, suspiciously aware of the nature of Irene and the driver’s relationship, but willing to let it slide. However, when the driver finds him beaten by thugs in front of his son, the driver’s protective instincts kick into gear. When Standard is then forced to rob a pawn shop with the help of the gorgeous Blanche (Christina Hendricks) the driver figures that he must now also protect Standard, thus honoring the trust that Irene and her son have placed in him.
Things then go from bad to worse as the driver is soon left holding the bag (literally), the previously-mentioned gangsters come into play again, and threats and fights ensue. As the situation grows more dire the driver sinks more and more into this character he’s built up in his mind of the young, good-looking, talented, resolute hero needed here to save the defenseless woman and her son. Like a true action hero, he knows what the cost of his actions might be but he commits to them as the only course he can possibly follow now.
Refn masterfully uses the soundtrack and lighting to express the various moods that conflict in order to bring about this character’s evolution. Sunset-drenched scenes of peacefulness surround the driver and Irene, while heavily-shadowed and pure dark scenes set up violent confrontations. And the violence is worth noting here for two reasons: One, it’s totally in keeping to its 80’s action film roots, where films from the likes of Cannon and Golan-Globus dished out bloody bodycounts in ever-higher levels; second, it’s Refn providing commentary on such film violence, asking such questions as, “If it’s okay to show your hero kicking someone’s head in, with that action occurring just off-camera, why then should it be wrong to swing that camera around and show the audience what he’s actually doing?” He may not be making such a clear point about audience complicity in such human but, rather, more of a statement about the unending depths of man’s nature to violent activity.
is poetic, well-shot, dynamically constructed, bold in its assertions and fantastically well-acted.