Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Thoughts On Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive


I saw Drive for the first time a week ago, my intention was to post a review immediately. For some reason I've found the film incredibly difficult to write about. I've written pages and pages on the film but couldn't get to where my collective thoughts were a. Coherent and b. What I actually wanted to say. I saw the film a second time last Thursday thinking that might help but it didn't. I considered giving up and just leaving the movie alone but I can't get Drive out of my head. Forgive me rambling but I need to get it out there for my own sanity! Less a review more scrambled notes really.

I think the problem stems from that in my eyes Refn's film has moments as close to perfect as movie moments get, while watching the movie I was frequently hypnotised by the synergy of sound and vision. In a similar way to how the last twenty minutes or so of Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly are utterly perfect, so Drive has a few of these sequences. None of them are as sustained as Leone's is, but for how ever long they last, they inspired a strong emotional reaction in me, not for what was happening within the film but by the quality of the filmmaking itself.


Drive has had many a critic foaming at the mouth to tell us all how it's this and it's that, and with this inevitably comes a wave of hype so overpowering it leads to disappointment for people when they eventually see the film. I will say Drive is nothing more than a genre film, a B-movie action thriller, call it what you will. It just happens to be almost perfect. It's genre film distilled down to some of it's most essential elements, with an otherworldly spin on moments in time, a slow burn of deep emotions, punctuated with instances of ferocious violence as the only release for them. Predictably the film's violence has become an issue, but Refn knows exactly how much to show and when to hold back, adding to it's power and making the viewer think they've seen more than they have.

All of it centred around Ryan Gosling's Driver, a completely blank canvas of a man, Refn's use of him is inspired, when he wears the latex mask he shows more of himself than his own face does. The rest of the cast is exceptional, from the increasingly odd looking Ron Perlman, the playing completely against type Albert Brooks, to the ever dependable Bryan Cranston. A special mention for Carey Mulligan, who seems to have received a pretty harsh ride from many critics, in my opinion she's does superbly, acting against Gosling's resolutely taciturn performance.


Drive has been inspired by so much genre movie history, the essential elements I mentioned coming from everywhere, in terms of the plot, adapted from James Sallis' novel and the filmmaking. The film's retro feel is so strong it feels completely out of time, it feels almost futuristic yet takes it's cues from so many different eras of film, from the minimalist approach of Jean Pierre Melville's 60's anti heroes, to having a distinctly 70's attitude, to borrowing it's audio and visual aesthetic from the 80's. Cliff Martinez' score fits the tone perfectly and adds considerable weight to the movie. Indeed sound design is a huge part of the film's power, from the songs to the rumble of car engines, the piercing gunfire to crunching bones, it all feels meticulous in it's execution.

I could carry on writing about Drive but I'm going to stop here. Well almost anyway. Drive, I absolutely fucking love it. When the trailer (which gives FAR too much away!) first came out for the film I expected to really like it and it's important for me to know that a film can still surprise me with a such a strong reaction. While the film is exceptionally stylish I do think it has layers of substance to go with it. The fact Refn won the award for best director at Cannes and the subsequent critical reception has skewed the view of the film to some degree. As I said, I don't see it as anymore than the genre film it is, and when it's as great as this who needs anything more?

11 comments:

Jon T said...

Wow, what a review. I wasn't going to bother with Drive having seen Refn's last film (Valhalla Rising - straight to video pretentious tosh)but now I think I will!

Wes M said...

Excellent reviw Mart, truely one of your best... Well, I've been hearing incredible stuff about this film, so I might...might... make a very rare excursion to the mulitplex to see this one...

Jon, Valhalla Rising, pretentious tosh ? I'm devastated ! I loved it !

A hero never dies said...

Thanks Jon, I have to say I liked Valhalla Rising quite a bit, particularly the middle hour but I can't imagine anyone interested in genre cinema not getting a fucking big kick out of Drive!

A hero never dies said...

Wes. Thank you so much for that, I can't tell you how difficult I found this one to write. Having now had the traumatic experience of going to the multiplex three times in a month, I have to say it's more than worth it for this film. The volume was earsplitting at mine and it worked so well, in fact the first gunshot nearly gave me a heart attack!

Jesper said...

I'm glad you decided to review Drive cause this is one hell of a review! The way you describe it makes me know that I'm gonna love eventhough my expectations are above high! Thanks, looking forward to watch this one myself after watching the directors previous excellent movies!

Wes M said...

I'm thinking that last image of Ryan Gosling wearing the jacket is Refn's nod to Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising ?

Aaron said...

Wes: The jacket was indeed inspired by Scorpio Rising. This is from Refn himself in an interview (don't remember the link, but it's references on the film's wikipedia page somewhere).

AHND: Great, spot-on review, sir. I saw the very first show on opening day because I've became such a huge Refn fan over the last year or two and couldn't wait to see this, and also because I wanted to avoid the hype, as I tend to go into overhyped movies looking for reasons to dislike it. And man, it did not disappoint. I had some minor issues with it, but for the most part it's one of the most refreshing mainstream films I've seen in quite some time.

Someone else in another review said this, but when you see DRIVE and you leave the movie theater, you suddenly feel cooler, and I don't mean temperature wise. Gosling just knocked it out of the park with this one.

A hero never dies said...

Jesper. Thanks, I have no doubt you will love it.

Wes. As Aaron says you're spot on, you've got to love a movie that references Scorpio rising and John Hughes Sixteen candles!

Aaron. Cheers, I completely agree about looking to pick faults when something is so hyped, human nature I suppose!

On a side note, there is a pretty high quality work print of the movie floating around that credits the music to Angelo Badalamenti rather than Cliff Martinez, even though it's Martinez' score in the film. I'm not sure if this means Badalamenti was to score the film originally. It's also edited slightly differently and the slight changes in the theatrical version make a massive difference to the film, the dialogue about the Frog and the scorpion is missing too! It makes an interesting watch but don't see it without seeing it theatrically first!

Ty said...

Great review! Drive was a solid thriller with excellent performances by Cranston and Albert Brooks.

Dr. Lamb said...

Glad you finally watched it. Great write-up on the film, though I was less enthusiastic with Drive, I do agree with you that on a scene by scene basis, the film is pretty solid. It just comes up a little short when I look at the film as a whole.

A hero never dies said...

Dr.Lamb, I'm still thinking about it, I guess it's what you bring to it yourself as well? and that soundtrack!

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