‘Drive’ Thrives on Full Tank of Style, Narrative

October 10, 2011
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Drive, starring the currently ubiquitous Ryan Gosling, is in part an homage to Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978) and indirectly perhaps other movies of the 1970s and 1980s.  It’s also in part quite an earnest endeavor, a post-modernist situation lacking most of the tropes and characteristics of the post-modern film.  Mixing art-house and genre perhaps is the most unusual, uniquely post-modern thing about it, but its style emphasizes that of  the best B-movies, not any European languor.

Gosling is by night a getaway car driver, by day a mechanic and stuntman.  He’s a professional, but also a bit of a cipher, silent, strong, not revealing anything.  Then he meets his neighbor, a lovely single mother played by Carey Mulligan, whose husband is presently in jail for an unknown crime.  Gosling and Mulligan slowly develop a relationship, a sweet, family-oriented thing, not lacking passion, but also not entirely clearly sexual.  Her husband is released, but is then pulled into another crime to get his former cronies off his back.  And with those cronies also threatening Mulligan and their child, Gosling joins in on the crime too.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn keeps this a mostly low-key affair.   Even the initial opening robbery and car chase is far less Bullitt (1968) and more…realism?  More hiding than flying over the cityscape.  I’ve never seen any of Refn’s other films, which include a series of Pusher films (1996-2005) which have a good reputation, Bronson (2008) which interested me, and the a bit more odd Valhalla Rising (2009).  He shows his skills and vision here.  Drive is a controlled vision with good character performances from Brian Cranston and Albert Brooks, among others.

The story focuses on mood rather than action.   When violence bursts out late in the film, it has powerful, shocking impact, and actually is far gorier than you’d be anticipating that deep into a film.  It’s a highly low-key affair all the way around.

The film’s main conceits referencing the 1980s are its title graphics and fonts and its retro-hipster soundtrack that isn’t lifted 1980s music, just lifted 1980’s style and sound that has been appropriated for a contemporary vibe.  Still, you hear those keyboards, and I dare you to imagine any other decade in the last 200 years.  Heck, in all of Anno Domini.

Drive is good.  It’s odd, one of those films that flies in under the radar, but may last out as one of the year’s better films.  It’s been a poor year, so it has a good chance to show itself above the tide when the year does end.  But it is also a film much more tied to a vision of style and narrative, a modern noir that echoes most heavily of not the original film noir but of the tropes of neo-noir.  And Ryan Gosling, I have to say, he’s picking a good and interesting variety of films of late, building a better resume than any other actor that I can think of in the last couple of years.

For a full, extensive archive of movie reviews by Ken, please see kennelco.com/film_diary

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