The informal name for this post edition is definitely “my younger sister’s movie education.” I mean that to sound only slightly teasing and mostly affectionate. I find that lazy movies on a Sunday are just as beneficial for me. I can see my sister, her adorable kitten and get cosy with a fluffy duvet and steaming cup of tea. Today, we added Bubbly chocolate to the mix; they now have Top deck Bubbly. Wonders never cease.
On today’s menu was the ode to noir, Nicolas Winding Refn’s, Drive. Based on the book of the same name by John Sallis, the story focusses on the protagonist, an unnamed driver played by Ryan Gosling, and the interesting life each of his three separate jobs give him. I saw this in the cinema and still remember how I felt while watching it; my chest was tight and my breath was regularly suspended whether it was due to the loaded expressions between Gosling and love interest, Carey Mulligan, the sheer stylised violence that never seemed too over the top (read: Tarantino. But that’s his trademark and we love him) or the glorious shots of Los Angeles that switched seamlessly from the urban suburb of Echo Park to the glittering rabbit warren of downtown to the long stretch of the beach-buttressed Pacific Coast Highway.
Drive, along with being a tale of unseen bravery and honour, is nothing if not a tour of LA by car; something everyone new to town will need. And what better tour guide than Ryan Gosling? Although my sister did once say: “I get that the movie is about driving but flippin’ hell.” Yes, there are a lot of shots whilst driving. Sometimes, you will feel as if you’re playing GTA and switching the POVs. Even so, Refn’s directing and the cinematography are so well styled that you’re consuming the glossy beauty of these scenes, craving for more.
As we joyride around with the Driver, we get to see more of his inner life, which is helpful because he is as laconic as Tommy Lee Jones in No Country For Old Men. It’s great for the watcher, because the characters around the Driver are never quite sure what he’s doing or thinking yet we get the grandstand view. Gosling acts brilliantly here; instead of looking like a dumbstruck pretty boy who handles a car well, his face does all the talking. Added to this, the chemistry between him and Mulligan’s character, single mom down the hall, Irene, is as palpable as the explosive car chases.
Everyone’s favourite anti-hero, Heisenberg AKA Bryan Cranston, makes an appearance as down-on-his-luck car shop owner, Shannon. Seriously, everyone comments on what a raw deal this guy gets. Shannon is the one who supplies the Driver with his three jobs: getaway driver, stunt car driver and auto-shop mechanic. Shannon also sees the Driver as his way out of working-class grease monkey hell, hatching a plan to get the Driver to race stock cars because he is a prodigy with anything slightly motor-related.
Without giving anything away, the Driver’s efficient method of living below the radar doesn’t continue for long, namely because he decides to take a chance and act on his feelings for Irene and her young son, Benicio. And a lone wolf knows that adding other people to your pack causes problems fast.
Everything about the movie is slick and deliberate to the point where some will criticise it for a lack of substance. However, I found it refreshing not to be inundated with character dialogue that goes nowhere and to just get lost in the underbelly of LA. It reminded me of Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero, where the titular character repeats the slogan on a Sunset Strip billboard he has seen: “Disappear Here.” Instead of being loaded with back stories, I was able to deduce my own about the characters and what motivated them. Refn is a director who knows exactly what kind of a movie he wants to make and it shows. For Drive, he was awarded Best Director at the 2011 Cannes Festival. One critic noted that action and art can happily go together when executed well, which is a succinct summary of Drive.
Along with a killer storyline, there are several terrific actors that make an appearance including a chilling turn by Albert Brooks as a gangster, Ron Perlman as his volatile partner and the luminous Christina Hendricks. The cherry on top is that this is all set to an 80s-inspired synth and new wave score by the talented Cliff Martinez. It’s neo-noir at its dark and seductive best.