26 September 2011

DRIVE- Review

Drive is a film so close to the pinnacle of cool, cinemas should really impose a height restriction on the door. The 18 certificate should rule out some of the popcorn-gobbling mouth-breathers, but I still had the misfortune to be sat in the row in front of a couple of idiotholes who snorted and chuckled through most of the film's quieter moments. The film is generally a quiet one, so they were pretty much laughing at nothing- no wonder Kevin James has a career.

On a generic level, it's an existential, neo-noirish crime thriller, with an obvious affection for similar pulp films of the 1980s. And yet it also won Nicolas Winding Refn a prize for Best Director in Cannes, so there's something else going on behind the eyes there. Ryan Gosling stars as a prodigiously talented Hollywood stunt driver, who moonlights as the best getaway driver in town. But his precise driving and organisation can't get him out of trouble when he grows close to his neighbour Irene, and her young son, and takes on the one wrong job going in LA.

First and foremost, it's an art film, and thus it is subject to a number of different interpretations. Predictably, the trailer is selling just one of those, depicting the film as a stylish action flick. The local megaplex partakes in those infuriatingly simple "See this if you liked these..." lists, and for Drive, the cinematic lexicon includes Fast and Furious 5 and Drive Angry. Perhaps you'll appreciate that it's not a film to go and see in peak time, with a crowd of people who've fallen for the cinematic equivalent of the James Woods gambit from Family Guy.

Still, if those guys can keep an open mind, there's still a lot to enjoy in Drive. It's important to stress that it's a very, very cool film. It hearkens back to 1980s, but with subtlety- its contemporary setting is embellished with the extraordinary synth score by Cliff Martinez and a healthy amount of neon. The pacing seems very detached, almost dream-like, which leaves it feeling a little bit shallow in retrospect. But hey, the 80s were shallow too, and we've certainly seen tackier and unnecessarily nostalgic pieces than this.

However, my favourite part of the film, which riveted me throughout, is its cast. It has some absolutely cracking performances from the supporting players, which includes a type-breaking turn by Albert Brooks as aging mobster Bernie. His voice, so familiar to generations of kids as Marlin in Finding Nemo and perhaps Hank Scorpio in The Simpsons, cracks with his character's quick temper and makes him a really fearsome presence. Ron Perlman is also very good as Bernie's embittered partner, giving weight to all of the complications that arise from our hero's mistake. And I always enjoy seeing Bryan Cranston, who gives a typically magnetic performance as Shannon, whose role in the film is somewhat tragic, and yet warmly played.

But Gosling is our unnamed hero, and he's equal to the film's general air of superficial awesomeness. As a hero, his personality is quite spartan, and he doesn't speak a lot. I recently said the same of Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but Smiley looks like Shrek's Donkey compared to Gosling's laconic display. The driver's satin sports jacket, which is sure to become a modish item of film memorabilia all by itself, becomes like a superhero's uniform for the character as he seems to connect with his neighbours, in the process endangering his professional standing and, more pressingly, his life.

I'm not sure what to say about his chemistry with Carey Mulligan's Irene, except that it's very natural. Hossein Amini's script doesn't waste the dialogue necessary to tell you what you can already see up on screen, in the unspoken attraction between the pair, and rightly so. The quiet of their endearment to one another, which is really very sweet and innocent, is then punctuated by blinding flashes of ultra-violence. Following this lead character into a heap of trouble, we watch him become more imprecise when he's brought to the point of dirtying his hands. Underneath all that cool, Gosling embodies those hidden psychopathic lapses just as well, exercising himself as an actor and really fleshing out the character beyond his cool costume.

Drive is a self-assured and intense arthouse flick, and it works just as well as an exploitation movie for the thinking man. It's arty, but never pretentious, because all of its self-assurance is backed up by Refn's unquestionable directorial skill. There are no delusions of grandeur about the film, just a grand and genuinely pervasive air of cool. It's so matter-of-fact that its finer points are not immediately obvious, but the fantastic cast and the memorable soundtrack speak for themselves.

Drive is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Drive, why not share your comments below? On an unrelated note, that James Woods clip is actually way funnier, en EspaƱol.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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