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?