Guest Review: Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive”

[By Ott Lindstrom]

Drive is…

Well.

Drive is a 2011 arthouse crime movie, directed by Nicholas Winding Refn. It stars Ryan Gosling, Ryan Gosling’s sweet-ass scorpion jacket, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman and a whole lot of fake gore. The story revolves around the unnamed Ryan Gosling character, a stunt driver by day/getaway driver by night who befriends and ultimately falls in love with his neighbor Irene, whose husband is in prison. One thing leads to another and the unnamed driver ends up on the run from a bunch of pissed-off gangsters with a million dirty dollars in his possession. Refn won the Best Director award at the Cannes festival and the film was nominated for a number of B-tier honors, while being notably snubbed at the Oscars. Drive grossed over 77 million dollars at the worldwide box office on a 13 million budget, for a modest profit of $64 million. Drive clocks in at 100 minutes and is availablah blah blah blah.

It’s a movie, capiche? It was shot on a movie camera and it was shown in theaters. You can watch it on Netflix, torrent it off Pirate Bay and buy it on DVD and BluRay on Amazon if you feel so inclined.

But to simply characterize Drive as a film would be unfair, if not downright doing it a disservice; Drive is just as much an art installment as a movie, a medium-transcending feast of color and sound. The variety is simply flabbergasting: from the harrowing opening scene dripping with shadow and tension to the sundrenched ethereality of a joyride down the Los Angeles spillway, Refn jumps between a cadre of moods and styles with the dexterity of a circus juggler. Every frame is executed with more aesthetic care and craftsmanship than most films can muster in their entire runtimes. The music is equally superb, an eclectic mix of deep, grimy synths and eerie vocals. Somewhat unfortunately, the musical highlight of the film comes rather early on, where the contrast of the Driver’s ascetic apartment and a neighbor’s party is accompanied by a poppy dance number, which worms its way in and out of being diegetic as the camera hops between the two rooms. It’s a fun trick, one that is sadly never topped.

However, Drive’s art gallery veneer and acoustic expertise belies that, at its core, Driveis also a video game. Certainly, it’s the most scripted and the least interactive one since Heavy Rain, but apart from the lack of quick time events and obnoxious ads for DLC and microtransactions, Drive is a perfect embodiment of everything that’s wrong with the current gaming paradigm. It is an adolescent power fantasy spiced up with visual flourish and excellent packaging, brimming with brutality for the sake of brutality (and, in one notable scene, breasts for the sake of breasts). It tells a rote crime story, its simple twists telegraphed miles away, populated by two-dimensional mannequins, vacuous husks with the masks of pretty actors grafted across the voids within. Nowhere is this inherent emptiness more apparent than when the lazy camera focuses on the Driver himself. A monosyllabic murder machine, the Driver’s binary smirk-to-straight range of facial expressions makes the internet’s memetic stereotype of Kristen Stewart look downright expressive. It’s telling of how limited Gosling’s portrayal is that the movie would have lost very little if the rubber mask the Driver dons as part of his stunt driver ensemble in the first ten minutes had remained in place for the remaining hour and a half. But it’s not just Gosling; with the exception of Albert Brook’s viciously energetic Bernie, the other characters are little better; Bryan Cranston is crotchety, gruff and not much else, Ron Perlman stands around and says “fuck” a lot, and Carey Mulligan spends a good 70% of her screen time staring silently, tearfully into the middle distance.

But here’s the weird thing: this universal shallowness works. When all the simplistic elements are working together, when the soundtrack is pounding a decadent beat and the lights and the shadows are tearing into each other like rabid beasts, Drive is a visual symphony, a dreamy exercise in art house experimentation acted out by soulless, blood spattered automatons. Logically, the whole thing should fall apart, but it doesn’t. It should collapse under its own pretension and weirdness, but it doesn’t…it’s just all the stronger for it.

Drive is truly something to behold.

*/5 “Defies a numeric summary”

Available on Netflix Instant Streaming

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