Monday, October 17, 2011

Nicholas Winding Refn's "Drive" Hits the Mark

In preparing to write this review, I downloaded a copy of Drive so that I could watch  it with more attention. Then I felt guilty, deleted it, and went to the movie theatre again. I cannot get enough of this film. Between interviews with the actors and the director, the soundtrack, and the huge outpouring of fan art present on the Internet, I have plenty to keep me interested.

The plot of Drive revolves around a character portrayed by Ryan Gosling, who is not named in the film. Known only as the Driver, he is a stunt driver by day and a getaway driver by night. This presents an original idea for an action film, and it does not follow the typical route. Gosling was allowed to the opportunity to select who would direct the film, and he chose filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn who hails from Denmark.

Gosling wanted to make a film about someone who had seen too many action films, and couldn’t tell the difference between that and life. He saw Refn’s film Valhalla Rising, and knew he had found his director.

“It’s like Nicholas doesn’t believe that art and entertainment should be separate, and that gave me a feeling like when I read the script [for 'Drive'].”

Pitching the film to Refn, and Refn to Universal Studios, however, would be a challenge.

The first meeting between Gosling and Refn did not go smoothly. They did not hit it off, and Refn asked Gosling to drive him home as he did not have a license. As they drove through the streets of Los Angeles Gosling turned the radio on and R.E.O. Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” was playing. Refn started crying, and they both sang along. Refn then explained to Gosling that this was the movie he wanted to make, a film about a man that drove around listening to pop music because that was the only way he could allow himself to feel.

Ryan Gosling and Nicholas Winding Refn explain the story behind "Drive"

At it’s heart, that is what the film is about. The character of the Driver is quiet and withdrawn, consistently chewing a toothpick with a complacent and gentle smile. He immediately brings to mind Steve McQueen in the classic car chase film Bullit. He softens for a sweet girl, played by Carey Mulligan, who lives next door to his stark Los Angeles apartment with her young son. The father returns to the picture, complicating the situation and involving the Driver in a series of dramatic action sequences, which are scored like an excellent dramatic 80’s synth montage by Cliff Martinez.

Title credit sequence of "Drive"

None if this is consequential as far as what makes Drive an excellent film. What makes it great is that it is absolutely beautiful. The colors are vibrant, and the dialogue is sparse and careful. Every scene is framed with precision, you could pause it at any point and have a well-composed photograph. Without having to talk, the characters make you feel for them. The darkness and depth of truly human characters are explored.

The pivotal scene of the movie, for me, took place in an elevator, with Gosling, Mulligan, and a tan-suited stranger. Gosling perceives that he and Mulligan are in danger, and the film slows down. He pushes Mulligan backward and kisses her deeply, the lights dim and Martinez’s score beings to sweep upward. When he pulls back from Mulligan he begins to brutally beat the stranger. Mulligan is scandalized, he shoves her out of the elevator and looks at her with more emotion than any single word in the script—he is saying good-bye. Then he turns back to crush the skull of the perceived threat.

The juxtaposition of the first kiss of the hero and his love interest against a brutal murder is a perfect representation of the film. By combining that which is beautiful in plot with that which is real, the film transports the viewer somewhere new—somewhere that pulp fiction, at it’s core, is important artistically. The film is a painting of a man, who as his theme song suggests throughout the film, is “a real human being, and a real hero.”

No single element of the story is strong enough to support Drive on its own. Every detail is important, I could watch it twenty times and still find something new to fascinate me. “The movie became the essence of the experience of making it.” Gosling explained. There’s even a video of Gosling breaking up a fight on a crosswalk in New York city, leading me to believe that he might be the Driver in real life.

Gosling breaks up a fight on the street in New York City
-Erin Rebecca Gilmour

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