Sunday, 29 January 2012

Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn, US 2011

Told in a nutshell, Drive is the story of a heist-gone-awry. As such, it is not revolutionary, but what makes it so, is the way it is told.

Starring Ryan Gosling, who's well on his way to become the Next-Big-Thing in American Cinema, Drive is very much his film as he's seen in literally every single take. Gosling plays The Driver, a car-mechanic-cum-stuntman-cum-getaway-driver, with remarkable restraint, obviously taking his cue from a string of similar anti-heroes in Hollywood Cinema's - Clint Eastwood, for one - to the effect that it makes the tension that's percolating beneath the façade all the more palpable. Taciturn and with a facial expression which remains unchanged throughout the film, The Driver's façade crumbles from time to time, throwing up his other side - his violent rage, his pent-up anger - although, similar to Eastwood or Hayden, this violent side never turns against the underdog or the disadvantaged; The Driver - whose story we never get to know but can easily imagine by way of Gosling's acting - knows who's to be trusted and yet, like another one of his inspirations - Jake Gittes in Polanski's Chinatown - he gets it fatally wrong in the crucial moment.

And yet, we don't even get to know The Driver's name which is one of the film's many gimmicks - for lack of a better word - as well as one of the film's many references to Hollywood Cinema, in this case Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, in which the heroine's name also is never revealed throughout the entire film. But this is not the only bow to Hitchcock in Refn's film, there are a number of others and you can clearly tell that Nicolas Winding Refn knows his Hollywood history and what's more - loves it! Besides Hitchock, David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino are also quoted - if ever so subtly - Drive betraying the influence these directors have had on Refn.

Having been aware that Refn was awarded the Palme d'Or for Best Director at last year's Cannes Film Festival, my expectations were rather high, although I wisely refrained from reading any reviews. What makes Drive what it is and the reason why it deserves to be included in the cannon of such brilliant heist-gone-wrong classics such as The Killing, Asphalt Jungle or Reservoir Dogs, are its deliberate slow pace, its cast (notably Gosling and Carey Mulligan, but also Albert Brooks) and, of course, the noir-ish cinematography, underscored by the fact that much of the action in Drive takes place at night though, I should add, similar to the cornfield scene in Hitchcock's North By Northwest, the most suspenseful moment in Refn's film takes place in broad daylight.

My only criticism with the film concerns its rather convoluted plot, which turns ever more dense and inscrutable towards the end. But then again, the same could be said of some of the films mentioned above for who can claim to have fully grasped each and every detail of Reservoir Dogs, to say nothing of film noir classics like The Big Sleep ... ?