johnlink ranks DRIVE (2011)

Several people with movie tastes I respect greatly put DRIVE at the top of their list of favorite films of 2011. That’s enough incentive for me, though the prospect of a carefully paced film which meanders through the Los Angeles noir scene is appealing enough on its own. Very anxious to get at this one…

I watched DRIVE (2011) on 8.21.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

This is a film which knows how to take its time. An unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling) falls for a named single mom (Carey Mulligan) after years of an isolated life. A stunt driver by day, and a getaway driver by night, Driver gets involved with the wrong sort (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman) and they are after him. Usually a synopsis like that is a small piece of the film. For DRIVER, that is pretty much it. Those two sentences constitute 85% of this movie. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. Because of its meticulous pace, though, this is very much a movie about performances.

And DRIVER has some high level performances.

Gosling is riveting as the Driver. Perhaps the edit stays on his stoic response to simple questions a few moments too long at times, but his demeanor becomes endearing rather than annoying. He is a man of few words, and of careful rage. He has high morality but a short fuse. He needs excitement, but he yearns for simplicity. The lack of a name belies a very nuanced character, and a supremely delicate performance. Great role for an excellent actor.

Carey Mulligan is appropriately vulnerable as his love interest. She is written in such a way that her hard choices are mostly taken from her (her husbands fate, a closing elevator, and the last moments of the film ensure that), but Mulligan plays Irene as a woman who needs to be taken care of. She does so admirably.

Bryan Cranston is solid as the Driver’s boss. A little gimmicky, but solid. Ron Perlman chews his way through every scene, and adds real weight to his villainous part. But Albert Brooks, as the second villain Bernie Rose, is the real treat. A man perhaps best known for providing the voice of Nemo’s dad in Pixar’s FINDING NEMO, Brooks turns a ruthless mobster into a somewhat sympathetic dance partner. It makes for a surprisingly unpredictable last fifteen minutes, if only because his honesty and warped integrity gives this movie a potential out in terms of how it wants to resolve itself.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn gives us plenty to chew on. In true neo-noir tradition, we are privy to plenty of shots of the shadow of the Driver. He is always a man without a name, sometimes a man without a face (when he fights Ron Perlman for example), and often a man without a physical body. He seems to have no real address, no real identity, no real connection to the world. His only connection to start the film is Cranston’s Shannon, though the Driver ultimately rejects that identity and puts Irene (and her son) in his place.

The music of this film provides a real through-line. Scenes are often shot with disregard to linear narrative. The narrative follows linearly from one scene to the next, but individual scenes will play with the order in which events unfold within their own little vignette. The music, fortunately, provides us with a tether. A single female vocalist serves as a sort-of musical narrator, and the 80s inspired beat brings us from one edit to another. I wasn’t a huge fan of all of the music, but I respected all of what the music represented.

This is a film which starts small, and becomes increasingly more violent and out of control. Long moments of silence permeate the first act, with more steady brutality punctuating the later beats. Refn manipulates the pacing to make the violence more powerful, and it is an effective ploy.

DRIVE is a great example of a film which is more than it appears on the surface. I guarantee it will reveal further layers to me on future viewings. I look forward to getting back there some day soon.





~ by johnlink00 on August 21, 2012.

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