a film by Nicolas Winding Refn

There are films that leave one agitated or restless and there are films that leave one in a state of calming melancholia. There are films that leave one satiated and there are films that leave one wanting more. Drive, directed by young Dane (three years my junior, so that makes him young) Nicolas Winding Refn, is all of these things at once - and for me, that makes for a damn fine motion picture. Glossy and bold, Drive has been somewhat maligned for its violence (it's haters seem to equal its lovers person-for-person), and though there are many films with much stronger and much more disturbing violent content than this, I suppose if you are not into a certain type of cinema (and I think you know which kind I speak of) then perhaps Drive is not for you. For those with bolder cinematic tastes though, this film, as they say, may just be up you alley.

This is not to say that Refn is merely trying to please everybody with his new film (though I suppose in a way, and to a certain extent, he is), but that the director has incorporated the pseudo-philosophical stylings of multiple genres and schools of thought into his latest work. With a slick, glossy, coolly tempered look that reminds one of Michael Mann and Alain Resnais, and designed to pay homage to everything from the European art film to the car chase actioners of seventies US cinema, the deceptively simple-titled Drive is, for better or for worse (I choose better, others would surely disagree) a mélange of cinematic pretensions all rolled into a near pitch perfect arthouse action film that plays it cool while simultaneously always on the veritable precipice of sudden and unbridled (and quite realistic in an ultra-hyper way) violence. It is in these moments of sheer audacity, where we see characters lose themselves in berserker-mode revulsion, that take the film, albeit temporarily, into the realm of Gasper Noe-like cinematic braggadocio.

When Refn's film is not in these moments of necessary self-repulsion, we are given a tragically tinged story of longing and ultimate and quite inevitable loss. Man-of-the hour Ryan Gosling (this charming soothsayer and dynamic actor is the best thing to ever come out of the Mickey Mouse Club) plays the unnamed stuntman-cum-getaway car wheelman hero of the film, and it is he who is the strangely tilted (and quite dangerous when need be) moral center of the film as well. Listed in the credits merely as "Driver", this post-millennial man-with-no-name archetype comes off as both insidiously naive and indignantly focused on the task at hand - whether it be escaping certain capture winding his way through the streets of L.A. or threatening to hammer a bullet into someone's forehead if they don't give him the information he so desires. All this and a tragic love story as well.

The film co-stars Carey Mulligan as Irene, the neighbour Gosling's Driver shows his soft side to, Bryan Cranston as Shannon, Driver's boss and inevitably pathetic martyr, Christina Hendricks in a small but scene-stealing turn as a trashy gun moll, and Albert Brooks as a nasty-ass, small-time mobster who hands in his best (and most delectibly psychotic, Soderbergh's Out of Sight aside) career performance to date. Yet, even though the latter pair steal the spotlight whenever they are on screen (Mulligan, in a hapless and ultimately poorly written role, seems to be working below her usual standards), Drive is Gosling's film to make or break so to speak. Luckily for us (and for Refn) Gosling is the type of actor who can play both wounded puppy and ferocious Mastiff in the same breath. Luckily for Gosling (and for us) Refn has given him a film in which to prove as much. Luckily for everyone involved (aforementioned haters aside), what Refn does give us in his subtly psychotic ode to a certain type of cinema, is just this side of spectacular - and that's just all right with me. [09/19/11]