Thursday, March 8, 2012

73. DRIVE (2011)

He's on his 10th film now, but this is the first movie I've seen by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn -- who is providing the BFI with the print of Andy Milligan's NIGHTBIRDS he acquired from Jimmy McDonagh, which automatically makes him a kindred spirit. Aside from its hard-to-read, hot pink, cursive credits font, I was very impressed -- not only by its dual expertise in handling/juxtaposing scenes of violent action and the humanistic shades of friendship and tenderness, but also by its rare comprehension of what constitutes a real film noir, which it has the confidence to not even claim to be.

Too often filmmakers confuse noir with a retro or expressionistic style of cinematography, or with any story that incorporates a femme fatale, but DRIVE -- adapted from a novel by James Sallis by Hossein Amini -- rejects all that icing because it can; it's the real cake. It's got an enigmatic hero known only as Driver (Ryan Gosling) who knowingly steps into the trap of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. A solitary man who can afford to live in Los Angeles by doing stunt driving for the movies and who is about to drive a racing car for his best friend (Bryon Cranston) with a sizeable investment from a local gangster (Albert Brooks), Driver gets a little taste of home and family when he befriends his next-door neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son (Kaden Leos)... in the carefree week before her husband (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison. He and Irene form an attachment -- not physically, it's unspoken but there -- and Driver does the right thing when the husband returns home; he retreats... but he's drawn back into their lives when he finds the husband beaten-up, involved in an escalating "protection" debt that is going to be paid by his wife and child if he can't come up with $40,000 fast. So Driver, acting as a modern-day knight out of a courtly love for a lady whose favor can be his only reward, joins forces with the husband to steal a bag of money being held at a pawn shop, which turns out to be a great deal more cash than expected and the property of the east coast Mob.

The ingredient necessary to any film noir is the sense of a good but compromised hero caught by his best intentions in webs spun by a malign universe, and DRIVE offers this in spades. Gosling plays Driver with a sense of anonymity that isn't mysterious or off-putting; his personal blankness makes the viewer feel as one with him behind his steering wheel, and his deeds are forgivable since he's clearly not acting for personal gain. The supporting cast is uniformly memorable, including a welcome Christina Hendricks in a surprisingly unostentatious role, and Brooks (in a rare dramatic role) and Ron Perlman are excellent as a couple of scummy west coast businessmen looking to set themselves up as local mob beachheads.

Viewed via Amazon HD instant streaming. 

1 comment:

  1. Probably my favorite film from last year. Also check out the directors previous work if you can. Esp Valhalla and Pusher.