Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Drive (2011) – Review

Review: Drive is not your typical Hollywood style crime drama (or action movie as some of the marketing might have you believe); rather it is a methodical character piece that plays out as a very good crime drama in the second half. Director (and for all intents and purposes writer, as he changed essentially all of the script) Nicolas Winding Refn is not so much interested in the action-heavy, cheesy dialog and mostly meaninglessness of Hollywood action fare. He has structured Drive to build slowly, allowing for the characters to exist in the space organically (and not defined by exposition and dialog). Then, he juxtaposes moments of action and graphic violence against the calm creating much more of an impact. These scenes are exhilarating for the audience. The action set pieces, though brief and little in number, are fantastic and play extremely well because Refn has set them up perfectly. However, this is a film that does not play well for all moviegoers (evidenced by the awkward reactions and nervous laughter from some viewers). The film is steeped in indie style, and is very similar to Refn’s last film Valhalla Rising in terms of pacing and overall narrative style (but with a bit more action). Those looking for a Hollywood style action crime drama (something like Fast Five) are probably going to be disappointed and bored through most of the beginning (as the pacing is slow). As good as the action set pieces are, Refn is much more focused on the overall aesthetic and mood of the piece. He is creating a cinematic piece of art, in a sense, and not just entertainment (not to say that it is not entertaining, because it is). He wants to derive meaning out of what is on the screen and his characters, and have it register with the viewer in a much more impactful way. However, do not fear, the film is far from avant-garde. Refn has characters that are relatable and also rife with genre conventions, as are many of the plot points and themes at play. Outside the style and pacing, this plays and feels very much like your typical crime drama – Refn has just made it his own (little dialog, not a lot of outward emotion shown, music playing a large role in translating character emotion to the audience, and brief moments of hyper-violence). It is Refn’s unique take on the genre that really makes this film special (in a world where many movies are the same thing rehashed over and over). The lead character, who is left unnamed, is also different than what we typically see in this genre. He is very soft-spoken, allowing his face and energy to emote rather than dialog. Yet, it is the contrast between his softness (and even awkwardness) with his love interest Irene and his competency as both a driver and badass that makes him a very compelling and interesting character, with almost no backstory. Drive above all feels fresh, and that may be its best quality.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Nicolas Winding Refn has inserted himself into the group of cool stylistic indie directors (probably most comparable to David Cronenberg, especially with the way he shoots violence). I cannot wait to see what he does next. Tonally and visually, Drive is fantastic (it is sort of a cross between Heat and Blade Runner). Cliff Martinez’s score, consisting of atmospheric tones, is brilliant and so perfect for the film (here is an example of the score), but is overshadowed by the found music (excellent stuff like Nightcall by Kavinsky, Under Your Spell by Desire and A Real Hero by College). Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography also fits Refn’s vision perfectly. The film looks very sleek and clean, juxtaposing the messiness of the situation the characters find themselves in. Beth Mickle’s production design also contrasts the lighting as the locations are rundown and unremarkable, and it works really well. The cast is fabulous. Oscar Isaac, Ron Perlman and Christina Hendricks (who has a great scene with Ryan Gosling) are very good in small supporting roles. Bryan Craston plays his tragic character well, and Albert Brooks plays a bit off-type for a great villain. Carey Mulligan is very important to the film’s narrative success. She does not have much dialog, but is able to get her emotions across nonverbally and is excellent. Gosling plays the odd lead character very well and differently from most similar types in the genre – he smiles.

Summary: Drive is not for everyone (it is far too stylistic for that), but its fresh take on the crime genre is remarkable and stunning. 9/10

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