2 October 2011

DRIVE (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011, US) - Beauty & the Beast

The city streets can be a lonely place but they can also be surprisingly beautiful. Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film Drive is a virtual compendium of American neo noir cinema. It’s also probably the only film since Michael Mann’s Collateral (2004) to have succeeded in making the neon city streets of Los Angeles appear both majestic and anonymous. The driver, played by Ryan Gosling, is a man with no past who offers his services as an extraordinarily fast and super cool getaway driver. His day job is a stunt driver for Hollywood films and by keeping the dialogue to an absolute minimal, the driver soon comes to occupy the existential plain of the man with no name. The driver strikes up a friendship with his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her little boy. Irene’s husband arrives back home from a stint in prison and things start getting a little violent. Before long, the driver is sucked into a familiar film noir set up in which doom, violence and chance become the rules by which everyone must play to survive. Drive is a mood piece and it is not surprising that the narrative is a little over worked and conventional because what really matters is the interplay between the affecting cinematography (Newton Thomas Sigel) and ambient score (Cliff Martinez). Director Refn deliberately sucks the air out of the dialogue sequences and furthermore by keeping the sounds of the city at a distance, the moments between people trying to communicate with one another become full of dread. And dread is an appropriate register with which to describe a lot of the violence that is perpetrated by the driver in particular. The violence might feel unnecessary but it ties in with the murky past of the driver which is left lingering in the background as a scary afterthought. The head smashing sequence in the lift with Irene (Refn knows how to ‘do’ slow motion) is a real turning point in the film. The moment unveils a fairytale accent, with the driver emerging as the monstrous beast whereas the beauty of this twisted romance finally witnesses an actuality that she cannot fathom. Drive is one of the most accomplished films of the year and a grand addition to the American cinematic landscape of neo noir. Here are a few of the films that have shaped the visual look and mood of Drive:

The Driver (Walter Hill, 1978)



To Live & Die in L.A. (William Friedkin, 1985)

Le Samourai / The Samurai (Jean Pierre Melville, 1967)

Collateral (Michael Mann, 2004)

Thief (Michael Mann, 1981)

Bullit (Peter Yates, 1968)

The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)

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