Monday, November 14, 2011

Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)

The driver with no name.

Humanity and brutality. Director Nicolas Winding Refn, who deservedly won the Best Director Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, has beautifully tackled both in a stark existential light, that which echoes the likes of "Taxi Driver", and ultimately weighed both in a blurring contrast which highlights the compromises of poor choices. "Drive", with its violent nature and perverse tone, could have easily been a disposable Grindhouse-like feature. Its exaggerated depiction of nerve-wracking gore, an aspect that is a most common reason for audience polarization, complements the whole film but still suggests a heightened feel of sensationalism for the sake of shock.

Yes, these violent scenes are truly unnerving, but looking at the main character, a skilled driver who works in the movies and also for night heists, played with great control but also with unflinching rage by Ryan Gosling, his mysterious transformation from a passive loner to an involved, blood-drenched avenger is the one that's much more disturbing. Forget the violence first, it is this protagonist's motives and questionable decisions that is the film's center. With him lacking enough character background, it makes his actions all the more intriguing, but his surprising notion towards love and connection without much words to back it up, on the other hand, makes him all the more affecting.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn and screenwriter Hossein Amini (basing his screenplay on the novel of the same name by James Sallis), exposes two primal human impulses, to kill and to love, and brilliantly incorporated it into the film's stylized, almost poetic take on noir. What resulted is a perfect amalgamation of both substance and form, with a fair amount of adrenaline rush to sweeten it all up.

In its very immediate surface that echoes some action film formulas, It is expected for "Drive" to contain one-dimensional characters, particularly the villains, played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman. But these displays of intended shallowness is overwhelmed by the film's pitch-perfect rendition of tender love. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan sure has never worked before. Ryan Gosling sure is already initiated with love stories. But Carey Mulligan has been memorable via her turn as a naive young woman in "An Education", so jumping from innocence to maturity, performance-wise, is really quite challenging on her part.

It's almost a thing of miracle, but their chemistry here in "Drive" flowed smoothly despite of some initial constraints. Carey Mulligan, although very young, has portrayed Irene, the main reason for the driver's daring decisions, with this sense of desensitization towards life. It's as if she has gone through so much that she simply wants someone to hold. And him, the driver, on the other hand, being lonely and a complete nobody all his life (albeit him being a stunt driver for the movies), only wants someone's life to touch. With the use of great lighting, cinematography and music (with the elevator scene being the best example), "Drive" has successfully established these two characters' link with an almost melodious feel but also is effective in breaking it.

Narrative-wise, the film is tight in its execution, holds on firmly with what it is all about, and never went on for something else. This particular focus for what's immediate rather than to experimentally delve more on something that is marked with pretense only highlights the film's material strength in its consistent ability to tell a story and also to seamlessly state why it has been told in the first place. It roots out, of course, as what I've said earlier, from the characters' flawed choices.

Nicolas Winding Refn has stated that "Drive" is a tribute to surrealistic director Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose cinematic deviance is a thing both of beauty and disgust. That is particularly limiting because "Drive" is, above all, a general tribute to what great, uninhibited filmmaking is all about.


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