Drive (2011) Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
It would seem that Drive is a movie of it's moment. Everyone I know who's seen this film loves it. They are incredulous to the fact that we have not seen this film, the reaction has been akin to 'Christ -you haven't lived'. I could retort back with comments about seeing Night Moves. I've also seen The Driver (Drive plays serious homage). And Electra Glide In Blue. I've watched most Michael Mann movies and even more to the point, I've seen American Gigolo. At a stretch I could throw in Stallone's Cobra and Peter O'Toole in The Stunt Man. The cinema of Water Hill flows through Drive. We're talking LA Noir and Bullit-like car chases.
Refn's picture is a very heavily indexed movie. As mentioned, there is a lot of reference. Various scenes are lifted straight. An ocean scene more than resembles Altman's The Long Goodbye. Peckinpah's The Getaway is evoked at times. A restaurant scene even recalls The Godfather. A lot of 1970's New Hollywood then. It's abstract as well. Drive's dialogue is beyond cliche and pathetic. There is no insight here. These characters we've seen from a million movies. Yet Drive still feels tense. It still holds my attention. Ryan Gosling is electric in his passive observation. The words that he spouts here are complete shit. Still, he looks amazing. He is a hero, like the Cliff Martinez soundtrack testifies. He's just a slightly violent psychotic one to boot.
So why is this movie so loved? It's almost embarrassing in its use of cheesy dialogue and cinema reference. Casey Mulligan is a low-rent Michele Williams (and always will be). Albert Brooks is too cuddly, and his past easily referenced to convince as the villain. So, after all this, why wasn't I disappointed by Drive? It's possible that its schizo nature is unique. Its violence is extreme. A hammer attack in a strip joint is startling and still original in its horrifying sickness. The soundtrack is perfect, like Moroder's was for American Gigolo. Gosling is the heartbeat. He can carry anything right now. This somehow thrills when it should make you cringe. A standout picture.
I just read up on Greek and Roman tragedy, tried many searches to google on the origin of revenge, and washed the dishes in the kitchen (to calm myself down) while thinking to myself: 'I hope there is no way that revenge turns out to being something biologically attributed to humans'.
I am a stern believer in the social impact on us people – we can only know, love, hate and generally react to something that we can recognize (and what we see and interpret depends on our social situation)...so therefore culture forms us. But what about all the other stuff, the genes and the emotions that show up in our brain in a scan? What if violent revenge and fighting to the last breath makes sense somewhere in the animal in me (or my son)?
So we just watched Drive. It turned into an intensely and disturbingly violent movie about half-way through. Ryan Gosling plays a caricature of his other macho roles, a Kimi Räikkönen type of a guy who goes from a quiver of emotion for a married woman to rambo-like killing campagne and destruction of his own life. Guess what, Drive made me angry. So much unnecessary violence, so many weak justifications (a woman and a son in possible danger). I had probably told myself that people don't want to see these kinds of simple violence feasts anymore (because I had refused to watch them for years).
To top it all off, Drive had potential to all directions. The first half of the film was excellent. Stylishly it built on the possibility of a love affair; hidden unexpressed emotion hung in the air intensely while red and blue lights changed on Gosling's stone face. There was the fabulously cheesy music, the references to 1980s and 1970s cinema, there was an artistic atmosphere often missing these days. But look how you can destroy a movie in seconds. Bad writing, I say. Kinda like when Kimi Räikkönen became associated with the Daft Punk – cool and still completely disgusting.