Friday, September 23, 2011
Drive (Release Date: 9-16-2011)
Ryan Gosling, who hand-picked Refn to helm the film, stars as a nameless stunt driver who walks through life with a steely, stoic gaze, and a toothpick ever-hanging from his mouth. His days include working as a mechanic in the garage of his mentor/employer Shannon (Bryan Cranston), his nights sometimes being occupied by moonlighting as a getaway driver. Into this high-octaine existence enters Irene (Carey Mulligan), a neighbor of Gosling's in his apartment complex who strikes up a gooey and wide-eyed romance with the driver before her husband (Oscar Issac) returns from jail. His reentrance into Irene's life is not without problems, some of them involving a few particularly shady-seeming individuals (Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks), and it is soon up to Gosling and Gosling alone to save Irene and her adorable child (Kaden Leos) from a grisly fate.
Everything that helped Refn get to where his is today is contained within Drive: An old-school aesthetic, startling injections of hyper-violence, a leading man just as likely to seduce as destroy, and about a million nods to other moments in film history. It's a rush, and those uninitiated to Refn's style are likely to be thrown for a loop, but I suppose there's no point in hiding that fact that I could have hoped for more out of Refn's big American coming-out party. Unlike both Bronson (set in a sordid prison system) and Valhalla Rising (which lays its scene with some absurdly barbaric vikings), Drive's horrifically brutal killings seem hugely out of place in modern Los Angeles. I understand that they serve as a commentary of some sort of Gosling's inner animal, but when everyone destroys their opponents in the same gory fashion, it's hard not to feel like Refn simply couldn't help himself. There's no question that the man is exacting, so it's hard not to wonder why he would knowingly allow his out-bursts of violence to go from shocking and raw to over-done and comical.
As previously stated, the guy has no qualms with wearing his influences on his sleeve, but in the case of Drive, the pile-up becomes a bit exhausting. Besides each name listed in the introductory paragraph, the film also bares obvious allegiances to Michael Mann, Werner Herzog, John Hughes, and Quentin Tarantino (who's something of an endless allusion himself), not to mention movies like Bullitt, The French Connection, and maybe even a scene cribbed straight out of Fellini's La Strada (That One might be unintentional, but I can dream, can't I?). I also cannot be made to understand why the movie isn't just set in the 80's, seeing as its soundtrack, opening credits, character wardrobes, and general vibes are all directly lifted from that era. Oh, and something else about Drive: For the most part, it's totally awesome.
Refn's camera, as operated by Newton Thomas Sigel, is compelling and picturesque at every turn, providing visual insights and eye-candy from first frame to last. The cast is uniformly strong, each actor hamming it up just as much as the story calls for. Gosling, though on screen for almost the entirety of the film, is often only a passive participant in conversation, but his exterior hints at a plethora of thoughts brewing, and his and Mulligan's chemistry is top-notch. As the name suggests, Drive contains a few scenes of motor mayhem that drip with intensity, making it impossible not to wish for more. There are a variety of complaints that I could make against Drive, but the only reason I'm making them in the first place is because the movie captivated me enough to stay on my mind. Let there be no doubt; Refn has better movies in him, but for now, we'd might as well just enjoy Drive's intensely off-beat ride.