Monday, September 19, 2011

‘Drive’ – relentless thriller!

‘Film Noir: A style or genre of motion picture marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace. The term was originally applied to American thriller or detective films made in 1944 – 54’ –

Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’ delivers a powerhouse of film noir with art house qualities and just enough of mass market appeal to make a nearly perfect movie. With a nice homage to the Michael Mann films of the late 80’s, this modern ‘70’s type thriller, bathed in pink neon and synthesizer mood, firmly established Ryan Gosling as the next ‘Steve McQueen cool ‘ star. And while you think you may know these styles of films, you will walk out of the film knowing you have never quite seen a film like this.

Gosling is the unnamed lead character (simply called ‘Driver’ in the end credits) in ‘Drive’; he doesn’t really need a name, he is there to simply ‘drive’. A stunt driver for the LA film industry, he works with his stunt boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston who seems everywhere these days) at a local garage while taking on ‘side jobs’ acting as the driver in various robberies. We first meet Gosling during the film’s opening, which serves to define the character with little to no dialogue or background. He is a driver, and a damn good one at that. The first of the films chase scenes is really not a chase scene at all, rather it is a high tension game of cat and mouse that takes place during an escape and from entirely within the getaway car. Brilliant in its direction, Refn builds tension using the dialogue coming from the police scanner as well as the narrative from the basketball game on the car radio.

Gosling plays the part with deliberate, quiet intensity; emotion practically smoldering from his eyes, his facial features just as expressive. We are never concerned with his background as where he is going is what we are all sitting on the edge of our seat for. In that path are neighbors Irene (the beautiful Carey Mulligan) and her young son, Benicio. Irene’s husband is in prison and the two strike up a friendship that starts innocently enough, we watch their first ‘date’, underscored by the fantastic soundtrack, that is both tender and loving. The grin on Goslings face while he is with Irene instantly relieves the tension that is built up, only to have it begin to grow once again after she is gone. Also in his path, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks in a marvelous performance), an emotionless, ruthless, calculating mob boss who agrees to fund Shannon’s dream of heading a race team with Gosling as the driver. With Bernie, his partner Nino (the always menacing Ron Perlman); find themselves at odds with the driver.

Through a serious of unfortunate events, Gosling is the driver at a failed robbery attempt that was a set-up by Nino. As the events unfold, director Refn uses every tool he has to amp up the tension and the reaction he wants from the audience. In the second, and best, chase scene, he smartly allows the roar of the engines to punctuate the action rather than music. No one has done this better since ‘Bullitt’ in 1968.

The film is stylized in every way; Refn uses slow motion, lighting, framing, amazingly rich shadows and sound to tell the story. And while it is a lot of slick style, it is never too much or overbearing in any way. The elevator scene, while one of the most brutal I have seen, was still one of the most beautifully shot scenes I have viewed in a while. The violence is graphic, so be forewarned, but it is not constant, it explodes out in an almost operatic style. ‘Drive’ is the perfect blend of Noir, Art House and Mainstream film; this is a 4 star effort worthy of trip to the theater.

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