The Kubrick Award – for Film Appreciation
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
2 years ago, Nicolas Winding Refn brought us an extraordinary film. His vision, talent and potential was (to some) fully realised with 2011’s ‘Drive’. He brought the style and sensibility, patience and film sense to a much larger scale. The way Refn shoots L.A at night is something marvellous, bringing a spectacular life to the gloomy, dimly-lit streets. Maybe it’s the emphasis on rationing action to make it that much more effective, or maybe the stillness of Ryan Gosling’s performance, or maybe it’s, as a featured song says: “…something about you, it’s hard to explain,” but ‘Drive’ is, at least to me, the kind of film I’d watch on a bad day to make me remember what I truly love: the art of cinema.
The thing I perhaps love most about ‘Drive’ is the clashing of genres. The classic crime thriller meets the conventional Hollywood action movie, meets the in-depth character study meets the romance flick. The way the writer, Hossein Aimini, blends these genres so easily into one cohesive plot is fantastic. Some credit is due to Refn; when you split the film up into these 4 genres and then watch the film, you can see his purposeful attention to each category individually, making ‘Drive’ like a scrapbook or portfolio, a collection of each genre which just happens to all be in one film.
I’ll admit the trailer of the film did it no favours. It made it seem like the really stupid Hollywood action movie with thin plot and a possible shirtless Ryan Gosling making girls scream. ‘Drive’ is not that film. ‘Drive’ is so much more than that. I guess most negative reviews of this film can be put down to false expectations. When going into ‘Drive’, expect a sleek, smart, stylish thriller trying nearly everything it can possibly try to take it that one step further.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s directing style, one of long shots, equality through the lens, power from the protagonist, and the maximum involvement in the scene from the viewer, really speaks to me, both as an amateur filmmaker, and as a watcher of film. He, much like Stanley Kubrick, basically uses the space to his advantage. Instead of using Kubrick’s trademark symmetry, Refn’s power is through his focus on the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for. In this case, it’s Ryan Gosling’s character.
Which really poses the question: In ‘Drive’, is Ryan Gosling’s character, The Driver, the antagonist, protagonist, or both? That’s the most interesting question Refn poses with ‘Drive’.
I can’t fully say I have a definite answer to the question, although my unconfirmed opinion is that The Driver is a symbol of the good man doing things that aren’t necessarily right, for a good cause. He’s actually, when you think about it, perfectly similar to Walter White. He does bad things for someone/something he believes worthy of all this trouble. And not only is he similar in his motivations and reasons, but The Driver also has his Heisenberg moments, including stomping a man’s skull in, or nearly beating a man with a hammer. On that note, did I mention how violent ‘Drive’ is?
It’s not excessive and it’s not absolutely horrible, but it’s there and it’s prevalent. ‘Drive’ brings us a very stylised sense of violence, and even though it’s stylised, it’s nonetheless brutal and confronting. There’s blood for sure, especially in one scene involving a motel shootout. It’s interesting how Refn decided to show the violence in some scenes so openly, yet in others, sort of hide it, protect us from it (a drowning in the ocean is shown from a fair distance, with no sound). But maybe Refn is only showing us what he really thinks we should see – just how bad things are getting for The Driver.
The whole 80’s feel of ‘Drive’ is probably my favourite obvious style and theme choice for a film. I love the retro music, the synths, the beautifully clean shooting of night-time L.A., the kickass car which The Driver speeds around in, even the awesome pink font. It all feels a bit like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, in the underworldy, seedy sense, all playing out in a city very much alive.
Ryan Gosling is unforgettable as The Driver, and even though it’s a simple performance, it’s so beautifully executed. Refn directs him like a ticking time-bomb, which is essentially what he is. He’s careful not to set Gosling off too early, but then once the going gets hot, he lets Gosling let rip. It’s terrifyingly enjoyable to watch, and he’s so charismatic. He doesn’t need to do any more than give a simple look on his face to make us intimidated – of course, that’s paired with the way Refn shoots him (and the amazing Albert Brooks, too), with powerful angles and cool glances.
Not only is ‘Drive’ one of the best of the last decade, it’s one of my all time favourites because it’s such an enthralling experience for even the amateur film afficionado. I took way too long to get around to this film, and I urge you to get around to it right away, or I will be at your home tonight with a hammer. It’s not gonna be nice.
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