Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Drive opens with a masterclass in creating tension; two minutes in and we’re waiting with the getaway driver for an armed robber. The opening dialogue has told us that the driver only waits for five minutes and there are about thirty seconds left.
The shots cut sharply back and forth between the driver’s cold eyes, the front of the building, the late robber’s partner, the radio blasting a basketball game, a police scanner and the second-hand on the driver’s watch. Then we’re off into a major car chase for another four tense minutes where helicopters and squad cars pursue them and the only dialogue comes from the two radios.
I was hooked in instantly. That ticking-clock device definitely works and Driver has shown us that he is ace at what he does, one of writing guru Truby’s three major ways of getting the audience to root for the protagonist. Plus, of course, Ryan Gosling plays Driver.
This is his film, he showed us his charisma and charm in Crazy Stupid Love but here he just oozes style and substance. You can not take your eyes off him and he creates a character with a mass of contradictory emotions who constantly surprises and all with very little dialogue. His eyes speak volumes. Truly impressive acting on display.
Carey Mulligan on the other hand I found to be plain old dull. Chosen because she reminded the director of his wife or so he tells us on the interesting extras interview.
Innocence was vital in casting this role, he wanted her relationship with the driver to be pure and chaste so that protecting innocence is the major motivation for Driver’s actions. Bland is what I got. I haven’t actually liked her in anything since An Education, she seems to be coasting.
They develop their relationship with minimal dialogue, it is all created through steamy, longing looks which is what director Nicolas Winding Refn was hoping to achieve; he wanted to ‘tell a love story without ever saying a word.’
His aforementioned interview tells us how this was achieved and for those interested in acting technique it is illuminating.
Visually the style is very different from his previous outing Bronson (highly recommend) which is surreal and theatrical. The first half of Drive is gentle, almost soothing to look at with pretty bubblegum colours to go with the pop soundtrack.
This all serves to lull us into a false comfort zone so that when the violence does come, and it comes thick and fast out of nowhere, the contrast is all the more visceral.
The fact that we believe the driver is capable of all this sudden splatter and gore is further testament to Gosling’s abilities and the power of symbolism – his jacket is embroidered with a scorpion and there is definitely a sting in his tail.
Now the soundtrack really got to me, this maybe because my awareness has suddenly been awakened to the emotional effect of sound in cinema, but that pop music drove me mad. Sickly sweet and all those songs about heroes while the camera lingers on Gosling’s face just made me want to throw up. I felt so condescended to.
What is interesting is that in his interview NWR put into words extremely succinctly what I have been trying to articulate: ‘Silence is when we feel the most. Dialogue is logic and therefore cerebral. Sound is straight to the heart.’
Unfortunately his ‘sound’ made me feel like a neon pink arrow had gone through my heart, engraved the word ‘hero’ on it and sprinkled sugar into the resulting wound. Yuk.
There is also some peculiar homage to Grease going on. The satin bomber jacket and the pink writing bring to mind the Pink Ladies and Driver takes his neighbour and her son on a drive to the actual place where the legendary Thunder Road race in Grease plays out.
Perhaps we are meant to infer from this that Driver loves that movie, or maybe it’s because of the car Danny builds from inside out as a part of the man and machine imagery – who knows, it certainly isn’t mentioned in the interview. (Addendum: having just read the screenplay a cut scene makes sense of this as Driver mentions two movies in one breath – Terminator and Grease.)
Bryan Cranston is great, extremely moving in his beaten down character and Christina Hendricks is electrifying in a tiny role.
As for the screenplay by Hossein Amini, it is a must read for all aspiring screenwriters. Even though there is rather a lot of ‘tell not show’ going on in the relationships, the masterful action scenes are well worth the read.
Drive has cemented Nicolas Winding Refn as a director whose work I find exciting but I lowered my opinion of him when upon being asked how the writer felt about his screenplay being smashed up and changed so much, he answered ‘I don’t care.’
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Drive. I wish I’d seen it on the big screen as it really has got some fantastic visual storytelling moments. The soundtrack and Carey Mulligan were nauseating weak points for me but the style and Gosling’s portrayal of an original and fascinating character lift this above most films.