Yeah I said I’d get around to it eventually. Drive was the one film last year I probably should have seen in the cinema, but I was skint (still am), and there was other stuff out. Well I’ve watched it now so people can stop telling me to see it and start telling me to see Shame or whatever. Anyone ever see the Marc Dacascos film called Drive? That was quite a fun movie. Wish I still had a copy. I’ll review that one day too cos it’s a bit of a forgotten gem. Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive though is not going to become a forgotten gem though. It’s going to be one of those films spoke about in the same breath as some of the modern greats. Click the link for my review.
The plot of Drive is a simple one, so simple you’d think it would be detrimental to the film. An anonymous man, commonly referred to by fans as Driver (Ryan Gosling), is a stunt driver for movies by day and a getaway driver by night. He’s the best driver there is and that’s the one thing he’s good at. He lives to drive. He begins to develop a romance with his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) until her husband Standard (Yup, that’s a name), played by Oscar Isaacs, comes home from jail. He owes some protection money to local crooks and so, in order to help make life safer for Irene, Driver agrees to help Standard pull off a job he has been asked to do as payment. Things go wrong and Driver plans to make things right with a bit of the old ultra violence.
The film opens with a scene that could easily go down as one of the greatest openings in cinema history. There’s no way you could watch it and not be drawn into the film’s world. The film opens with Driver doing a getaway driving job but unlike any other films this isn’t some high octane car chase through the streets of Los Angeles. Instead it is a tense, well planned out and gripping sequence of events that show just how good Driver is at what he does. He drives like he is a animal being hunted and must use his wits and know-how to survive. He ducks behind a parked truck to avoid a patrolling car, hides under a bridge to force a helicopter to lose him and times the entire thing up with the ending of a Basketball game in order to get lost in the crowd. The scene is dark, moody, tense and very rarely leaves the inside of the car. Moving this scene along is the song Nightcall by Kavinsky & Lovefoxx, youtube it. Music is a key element of Drive’s feel. It sets the mood, drives the scenes along and feels unlike any other film out there. Well, except maybe Tron Legacy. The score is entirely electro focused and very tinged with a feel of the 80s.
The whole film feels like it is from the 80s to be fair. Clearly a conscious choice by the director. Everything from the films titles to the clothing is 80s inspired. The only things that tell you it is set in the modern day is the modern use of technology and the chosen cars. The film stays way outside the busy, modern, city areas of LA giving the whole film a more removed and downgraded feel to it’s location. It almost plays out like a modern western. Driver is a man with no name and is good at one thing and all he is interested in is handing out a bit of justice to the people that are threatening Irene. He’s the stranger that saunters into the life of a damsel in distress just when she is about to need him most.
Dialogue is very very sparse here. The film has a run time of little over 90 minutes and Driver probably has all of 30-40 lines across the whole of the film. Most can barely qualify as full sentences. It is almost like Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling went over Hossein Amini’s screenplay and chipped away at as much of the dialogue as possible to get what they needed to across as efficiently as they can. In the process Driver gains a level of mystery about him much like the anti-heroes of a Sergio Leone western. The silence may end up being trying for anyone with the attention span of a gnat but for most the silence brings about anticipation of the next line, at times even making you wish he’d say something to fix an awkward moment.
The camera is nearly always moving here but it remains locked down for smooth tracks, pans and tilts. It seems very strange these days when nearly everyone is shaking the camera about the first chance they get to give a false impression of intensity. I’m glad Drive’s director is aware of just how powerful holding a camera in place and calmly following your stars can be rather than the lazy alternative. A lot of the film is shot with wide angled lenses which is another technique that isn’t used so much these days. Using a wide angled lens recalls the style of a lot of films from the 1930s through to the 50s. A lot of shadow is used too which is another rare trait these days when a lot of films are lit either for TV, their star’s egos or to allow for the drop in light that comes with a 3D conversion. Thankfully this film was made with none of those things being kept in mind.
Originally this film was being adapted from its original novel to be an action car chase vehicle for Hugh Jackman in the same vein as The Fast And The Furious. Thank God that never happened because we would have been robbed of a very compelling film that manages to be style over substance but at no point feels like it is a dumbed down experience. There’s plenty to discuss about the characters, the style and even, in one lift base scene, just how real the experience is for the leads. Drive is a stunningly well made film and while part of me feels that the film relies on it’s ambient and moody style a little too much there isn’t a single moment when it hurts the experience in any way. Watch this film and then be baffled as to why it was snubbed for so many Oscar nominations this year.