Thursday, March 22, 2012

Drive

By Sati. Thursday, March 22, 2012 , , , , , , , ,
89/100 (100 min, 2011)
Plot: A mysterious Hollywood stuntman, mechanic and getaway driver lands himself in trouble when he helps out his neighbour.
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers: Hossein Amini (screenplay), James Sallis (book)
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston

"There is always some madness in love. 
But there is also always some reason in madness."
— Friedrich Nietzsche 
 "Whatever is left of me, whatever is left of me...I'm yours."

"Drive", the movie sensation of 2011, has swept away most of the people who have seen it. Why? Stylistically the movie is just amazing - from the very first minutes the pictures just flow into the night, with shining, blurred lights in the distance and you get the feeling as if you were driving along with the main hero. The film never loses its dreamy, evanescent quality - the camera movements are steady and the takes are long, the images just flow before our eyes creating one breezy atmosphere which is curiously contrasted with the violence and the gore that we occasionally see in the movie.

What adds to the film is another reason for its popularity - the amazing soundtrack consisting of original score by Cliff Martinez, which for some reason brings to mind driving on the empty streets during night. The album also contains great synthpop pieces that feel very old school and may as well be something which Quentin Tarantino would love to use in certain scenes in Kill Bill Volume 2. From the beginning to the very end, the movie never betrays the amazing climate it established, pulling as deep into the story as if it was a dream.
The film follows Driver - he is so mysterious that we never even get to know his name. In fact to call him mysterious is an understatement - we know almost nothing about this guy except for two things - he works in the garage and as a stunt driver in movies and drives the car in an excellent way, which is mostly apparent in the movie long yet engaging opening where the character, just using his skills and clever strategy escapes the police, while driving robbers after they finished committing their crime. Driver never says too much, he stares at everything intensely and the only kindness and subtlety that appears in his eyes instead of his usual determination and coldness is when he sees his neighbor Irene and her little son Benicio.

Irene is everything Driver is not - she smiles, she is a mother, she is married and she appears to be lively and joyful. She however, as much as he, has this sense of nostalgia and quiet sadness about her - The Driver and Irene actually say very little to each other,  because Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan felt that their scenes should be more focused on the mood and refused to say many of the scripted lines. Mulligan summarized making the film as "staring longingly at Ryan Gosling for hours each day." So there they are, just spending time together, looking at each other, enjoying each other's company.
Driver is falling in love with Irene, never actually doing more than just spending time with her. In the crucial scene of the film he knows that in order to protect her he will have to reveal his true nature. Before he does so, he kisses her and the movie's amazing cinematography steps in - they are in the elevator and it just becomes flooded with light in this moment. After that, he takes down the man who was a threat to her and she walks out of elevator, stunned and horrified, without saying a word. He just stares at her back, apologetically, knowing that whatever it was between them is now over.

After that moment Driver succumbs to his true nature and begins pursuing people who want to harm Irene, because of her husband's actions. He mercilessly tracks them down and makes sure they will never hurt her. There are hints to Driver's real personality throughout the film - he is always so quiet and intense, always very focused but halfway through the movie comes a scene when one of the guys he once drove after robbery spots him in the cafe and sits next to him. After he tells him who he is and wants to engage Driver in a conversation the Driver tells him to walk away or he will kick his teeth out, with the cold, unmoved stare.
Driver references the fable of "The Scorpion and the Frog" where the frog agrees to carry the scorpion across the river after which the scorpion stings the frog, saying "it's my nature" and both drown. Driver can be seen as The Frog of the story - he drives criminals (scorpions) around in his car, but is is dragged into their destructive world (stung). He drives around criminals, never caring what they've done. But his mistake was getting to close to the people involved - whatever that is that made him into such a cold and detached person probably echoed in his sense of the need to protect Irene and her little son.

The criminals in this movie are its weakest point - I have no doubt they look and behave closer to actual real life criminals than in any other movie released recently, however is "Drive" really about realism? In a sense it's a dreamlike fairytale with a twist where the princess is saved, the hero is noble and the bad guys lose. Ron  Perlman and Albert Brooks who play the primary antagonists are good, but they are very forgettable. I never understood the praise Brooks received for his performance in this film. It faded from my memory as soon as the movie was over.
The thing with the scorpions in the movie actually seems to have more to it - what if the Driver himself is a scorpion?  There are some clues hidden in the movie, when Driver starts to become angry or violent - when he is in the car right before the scene in the coffee shop it is reflected in the window and makes a shape like a scorpion.  The second is when he goes to meet Bernie at the Restaurant - it is in the bottom right corner of the painting as he walks up to the table. Maybe the Driver is the scorpion - waiting for its prey to attack it? Or maybe what makes him stronger than the tortoises of the world is the fact that his actions come from love and not from selfishness?

Ryan Gosling's work in the movie is a revelation - he is a perfect choice for the character, strong, yet sensitive, with the eyes that can express both fierceness and compassion, anger and love. Originally the movie was going to star Hugh Jackman in the main role, which would most likely turn "Drive" into big budget action movie and most likely a disaster. With Gosling cast in the main role what's most important is his hero, his emotions and his actions. We never lose him out of our sight and we never really question what he does, because we know he is doing the right thing. Even if he don't know his past or even his name, we are prepared to follow where he leads us.
His partner in the movie is lovely Carey Mulligan who puts all of her natural delicateness and fragility into the character of Irene, a woman who is torn between her ordinary life, in which she raises her child and waits for her husband to get out of jail and her friendship/love with the Driver, with whom she feels connection and through it happiness. What even adds to her naivety and delicateness is the fact that for most of the film she isn't even aware of all the things that are happening and the things the Driver does to make sure she is safe.

The film also includes Bryan Cranston as Driver's boss, in performance I liked much more than Brooks's overrated work here and beautiful Christina Hendricks, straight from "Mad Men" in a brief but extremely memorable performance that adds even more of a character to the movie - we don't know much about her Blanche, just like we don't know about the Driver - she seems to be an outcast for some reason, same as him. That's the thing about this movie - even without many lines and many scenes the characters are so vivid you immediately feel the depth in them and you are compelled to wonder what their back stories are.
Refn's achievement as a director is astonishing here - it is the biggest outrage that he didn't get much recognition for this movie. Forget about Gosling, even the film itself, but what Refn achieves here is outstanding - he manages to create atmosphere, rich characters and establish strong, engaging story without seemingly any effort. Add to that the fact that what adds to the movie are shots of Los Angels, which is the city Refn doesn't reportedly have much knowledge of. And the best part - the man doesn't even drive - he failed his licence test 8 times.

"Drive" plays out like "Taxi Driver" for new generation - the heroes are similar - damaged and filled with anger, there is a girl they want to rescue and both movies feel strangely alike in their ability to lock the viewer in the world from the film during its run time. Not only is it terrific thriller and a beautiful love story - "Drive" feels fresh and unique and won't fade from your memory for a long time.

20 comments:

  1. Brilliant. Particularly in one of 2011's best films.

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    1. Yeah, it may not enter my top 10 based on rating but it was one of the most memorable movies from 2011.

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  2. Great review. This was easily my favorite movie from last year.

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    1. Thank you! I think it's one of these movies that were people's favorites in blogosphere, it's really on its way to become cult classic.

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  3. This movie was one of the biggest snubs at the past awards season. I just love that photo of that scene in the elevator. It just embodies the stylistic feel of the movie. Can't wait for "Only God Forgives", the next Gosling-Refn callobration.

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    1. Yes, I'm so glad they are working together again, I hope it will be at least half as good as this one.

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  4. Awesome review! I love love love this film. I rewatched it last week and it is probably my biggest obsession at the moment. Nearly everything is perfect.

    Plus, I'm glad you pointed out Blanche. I found her quite interesting, even though she's barely in the film.

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    1. Yes, she really is a fascinating character - apparantly a lot of thought went to the casting, Refn initially wanted some real life prostitute to play her but chose Hendricks because of her innocent voice and curvy figure, I think it worked out well.

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  5. Great review. I absolutely loved this film. I think this will become the cult film of our generation.

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    1. Oh, it's definetly on its way to do that!

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  6. Wow I love your sidebar and moving images Sati.

    Drive was my favorite movie of 2011 and has been climbing into my top 25 films ever. I was blown away. I expected it to be good, just not that good. Glad you enjoyed it as well. I think the comparison to 'Taxi Driver' is very warranted.

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    1. Thank you it took me hours messing with html code, which I only know a little bit :)
      Thanks, I thought of it thanks to all those shots of Driver staring into the mirror, just like Taxi Driver.

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  7. added you to my blogroll as well.

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    1. Thank you! Your blog is great, following it too!

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  8. I feel a little bit guilty saying that Drive needed more driving. When the action comes it is tense and artfully done without shying away from the extreme violence, but that all starts to go away as soon as the characters start talking, or sighing and looking at each other. Nice review Sati.

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    1. Thanks! For me the prologue alone established the driving part pretty well, but this maybe because if I drove people would die definetly, so I admire people just by being able to know how to turn the car :)

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  9. Good review. My take on the jacket was that Driver was the scorpion - he can't escape his true nature, even if it means hurting himself by losing a woman that he is starting to get close to.

    In my review I noted that this was a modern day remake of the classic western Shane, right down to the open-for-interpretation ending. A sequel would obviously end any speculation about Driver's fate, but like Shane I really hope there is no sequel.

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    1. I read somewhere Refn shot the scene where Driver dies, but it was cut from the final version of the film.

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  10. Excellent review. I can see Driver as the Scorpion, but hadn't considered the ways that he is also the frog in that story. I'm also with you about not understanding why people kept raving about Brooks. I realize that it is because they are used to seeing him in comedies, but I haven't seen many of those and so for me the performance was fine, but nothing that stood out.

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    1. Yeah, I mean with Mo'Nique in Precious that was seriosuly frightening poerformance. Brooks was just saying his lines and that was pretty much all.

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