‘Drive’ Thrives on Full Tank of Style, Narrative
Drive, starring the currently ubiquitous Ryan Gosling, is in part an homage to Walter Hillâ€™sÂ The DriverÂ (1978) and indirectly perhaps other movies of the 1970s and 1980s. Â 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. Â Mixing art-house and genre perhaps is the most unusual, uniquely post-modern thing about it, but its style emphasizes that of Â the best B-movies, not any EuropeanÂ languor.
Gosling is by night a getaway car driver, by day a mechanic and stuntman. Â Heâ€™s a professional, but also a bit of a cipher, silent, strong, not revealing anything. Â Then he meets his neighbor, a lovely single mother played by Carey Mulligan, whose husband is presently in jail for an unknown crime. Â Gosling and Mulligan slowly develop a relationship, a sweet, family-oriented thing, not lacking passion, but also not entirely clearly sexual. Â Her husband is released, but is then pulled into another crime to get his former cronies off his back. Â And with those cronies also threatening Mulligan and their child, Gosling joins in on the crime too.
DirectorÂ Nicolas Winding Refn keeps this a mostly low-key affair. Â Even the initial opening robbery and car chase is far lessÂ BullittÂ (1968) and moreâ€¦realism? Â More hiding than flying over the cityscape. Â Iâ€™ve never seen any of Refnâ€™s other films, which include a series ofÂ PusherÂ films (1996-2005) which have a good reputation,Â BronsonÂ (2008) which interested me, and the a bit more oddÂ Valhalla RisingÂ (2009). Â He shows his skills and vision here. Â DriveÂ is a controlled vision with good character performances from Brian Cranston and Albert Brooks, among others.
The story focuses on mood rather than action. Â When violence bursts out late in the film, it has powerful, shocking impact, and actually is far gorier than youâ€™d be anticipating that deep into a film. Â Itâ€™s a highly low-key affair all the way around.
The filmâ€™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. Â Still, you hear those keyboards, and I dare you to imagine any other decade in the last 200 years. Â Heck, in all of Anno Domini.
DriveÂ is good. Â 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. Â It’s been a poor year, so it has a good chance to show itself above the tide when the year does end. Â But it is also a film much more tied to a vision of style and narrative, a modernÂ noirÂ that echoes most heavily of not the originalÂ film noirÂ but of the tropes of neo-noir. Â And Ryan Gosling, I have to say, heâ€™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.
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