After the pulsating ten minute heist (ending with Ryan Gosling almost going face to face with a cop to ooze ‘cool’) comes the title sequence in pink font with electro house music playing in the background. I don’t know why but something about it told me the film was set in the late eighties. Now, I’m expecting Drive to plunge into the darkness of neo-noir with Driver being the hero, as opposed to, a character. But then, the stoic Driver flashes an effeminate smile and descends into a montage that is, set near a pond and guided by a pop track with lyrics like “A real hero, a real human being”. Now, I’m embarrassed. I’m skeptical about how this is going to turn out. Seriously, what the heck is this kind of music doing in a neo-noir? This is just what I’d expect to see in a chick flick or a daytime TV movie. It only gets worse when you have to play spectator to the awkward stares shared between Driver and Irene (Carey Mulligan). Watch the film a second time and you’ll see these scenes exist for characterization purposes.
When I first saw the trailer for Drive, I was expecting an action film and a charismatic Ryan Gosling. That’s how the movie presented itself to be. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know the film’s plot. However, the film isn’t plot centric. It has action, crime and it is fairly dark but I’d categorize it as a character study. With very little dialogue, Nicolas Winding Refn has managed to vividly characterize his players.
First there’s Driver, a car mechanic who works part-time as a getaway driver and stunt driver to escape from his existential vacuum. He wears gloves, a silver jacket with a scorpion on it and chews on a toothpick. He ensures to keep his jacket even though it can tie him to the heists he’s carried out. He says little and keeps his eyes wide open. This is a personality he has chosen to embody. An identity, influenced by action movies in the eighties, he believes he ought to live up to. Notice him grit his teeth when told “You’re doubling for the star. You’re not like a day player, really.”
The addition of idiosyncrasies to the character causes him to face difficulty in social situations. This gives the character depth, transforming him from an action hero to a real person. Driver is withdrawn from society. Any real sense of connection he feels is with his employer, Shannon and his neighbour Irene. In Irene’s presence his feminine side crops up- a needy, vulnerable side that he otherwise suppresses to embody the strong, silent tough guy he wants to be. The feminine side is evoked by pop music, laced shoes and graceful body movements. I suspect that the scorpion symbolizes a feminine violence (since scorpions engage in sexual cannibalism) explaining the Butch-and-femme relationship shared between Driver and Irene. Their best scene in the movie takes place in an elevator when Driver has just crushed a man’s skull right before Irene’s eyes. The expression on Gosling’s face when he turns to look at her speaks volumes. Driver’s animality has been revealed to his lover. He’s afraid, embarrassed, exposed and vulnerable. But he's also helpless knowing that it had to be done for both of their sakes. It is this scene that might just earn Gosling an Oscar.
Accompanying Gosling in The Academy radar is Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose, a gangster who’s apologetic about his ways but knows that these are things that need to be done. Brooks is terrifyingly morose and establishes his character more with, subtle body language and silent stares, than dialogue. When Driver locks horns with Bernie and his belligerent partner, Nino, he is scared to death. That much is evident. This fear is overshadowed by anger once Shannon and Irene are in danger causing him to put his enemies ‘off the map’.
Drive is a great film. With Drive, director Nicolas Winding Refn has proved to be one of the great contemporary film stylists. He couldn’t have done that without a technically sound crew. Drive is more of a mood piece than a product of neo-noir. It reminded of Eastern Promises, Taxi Driver, Down in the Valley and No Country for Old men. The violence is beautiful, artistic and is sure to cause whiplash for most viewers. The second half of Drive is driven entirely by Cliff Martinez's dark ambient score that puts you in a trance. By conventional standards, it might be slow paced but it is, nevertheless, intense and immersive. Multiple viewings are mandatory.
Rating- 10/10, added to Great movies.