Saturday, January 21, 2012

Drive (2011)

Drive (2011) is the best arthouse exploitation film that I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s hard for me not to like a film about a socially-inept, mentally-ill stunt car driver who falls in love with his timid, sweet single-mother neighbor. The first act of the film boasts some of the sweetest romance in recent cinema history, and amazingly, Drive also boasts some of the most sadistic and over-the-top violence, rivaling only Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo (2008) in its bloodlust. The performances are uniformly excellent; the script by Hossein Amini is charged and judicious in its dialogue; and finally, director Nicolas Winding Refn delivers some truly sumptuous audio and visuals.

The driver, played by Ryan Gosling, works legitimately in show business as a stunt car driver and as a garage mechanic for his down-on-his-luck buddy, Shannon (Bryan Cranston). The driver works evenings as a wheelman for robberies. Gosling’s driver is a loner and through a series of fortuitous, small events, his pretty neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan) steals his heart. Irene has a young son; and right before it appears that Gosling’s driver and Irene are about to be together and happy, Irene’s husband is released from prison. Meanwhile, Shannon gets a loan from mobster, Bernie (Albert Brooks) and his associate, Nino (Ron Perlman), to purchase a stock car for racing. Shannon sees immediate success with Gosling’s character as his driver. Less than a week out of prison, Irene’s husband gets effed up by some mobsters. Directly in the face of common sense but in the name of love, the driver agrees to help Irene’s husband, so Irene and her son can have a stable life, with a small, pawn shop robbery.

I’ve watched Drive twice, now, and am damn impressed with two subtle scenes. Both of theses scenes are impressive displays of doubletalk and charged emotion. This is a compliment to both Amini’s script and the actors’ performances. The first scene is Gosling's first meeting with Irene’s husband, played by Oscar Isaac. With Mulligan’s Irene watching the two men, Refn plays out the classic scene of the two males, vying for the title of alpha male. In less adept creative hands and with less adept performers, this scene would come off as stagy and melodramatic. Since there is little dialogue, the three actors have to carry the emotion and they carry it very well. The second scene involves Albert Brooks and Gosling. While Gosling gives a wonderful performance, Brooks displays his veteran ability and wonderful talent throughout Drive. I love Albert Brooks’s films. He plays some of the funniest and sweetest men in films like Defending Your Life (1991) and Mother (1996), for example. In his early scenes in Drive, Brooks appears like a lovable, sweet guy. His character makes a dramatic turn in Drive. During a second viewing of Drive, I noticed that those initially sweet scenes with Brooks are actually imbued with a venomous intensity. In a particularly well-done scene, he appears to be encouraging Gosling’s character, but during a second viewing, it is evident that he is really trying to scare the shit out of him. A masterful scene.

Refn’s cinema has its own look. His criminals, as in his masterful Pusher trilogy, don’t look like magazine models or recording artists. They don’t dress in the latest trends. For example, what’s up with the Smokey-and-the-Bandit jacket with the Golden Scorpion? What about the thirty-year-old Puma track suit? Drive is filled with these little shabby yet meticulous details. In the best scene of the film, Gosling with hammer in hand interrupts a gangster in the dressing room of a group of strippers. Visually, it’s brilliant: wall-to-wall mirrors while voluptuous dancers sit coolly, watching Gosling threaten the thug. It’s so gleefully exploitative: sex and violence, married together blissfully. Look closely and one of the strippers has a cup of red rope licorice sitting at her dressing stand. It’s a small little visual cue that these ladies have lives outside of this scene. Like this scene and most of Drive, Refn is able to make surreal and audacious people and scenes completely believable and intimate.

Drive is the best film of 2011. There’s so much more to talk about but a viewing will do it better justice. See it.


A hero never dies said...

Right there with you Hans, no matter how many other films I saw after this film I just couldn't shake it, after seeing it again even more so.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It's not a film I could watch over and over, but I agree - it was one of the best to come out last year. The perfect blend of art house and action.

dave s said...

Agreed and agreed.