Tag: drive


Drive (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The carefully calibrated “Drive,” based on James Sallis’ novel, is not dissimilar to pulse-pounding thrillers like the Coen brothers’ “Blood Simple.,” Dominic Sena’s “Kalifornia,” and the Wachowskis’ “Bound.” These four films not only start off slowly, their premises promise rather standard fares. About halfway through, however, their curious stories start to take shape and their true forms are revealed. The protagonists are people who have their backs against the wall. They must survive or perish. What makes these stories compelling is not the template but the manner in which they are told. A case can be made that “Drive” is a mood piece above all.

This approach is almost necessary considering that our protagonist is mostly silent. He has three part-time jobs: a mechanic, a Hollywood stuntman, and a getaway driver. He is given no name. (I will refer to him as The Driver henceforth.) He values his solitude. He minds his own business. Strictly professional. Cold. Impersonal. When asked questions, answers can be found in his eyes or his body language. On the occasion he does speak, he gets to the point. Less than ten words with real intention behind each one. I cannot image anyone else playing The Driver other than Ryan Gosling. He will be remembered for this role.

An expected plot device: The Driver is shown to be capable of caring for others. Specifically, he grows attached to his neighbors: a waitress (Carey Mulligan) and her young son (Kaden Leos). His relationship with Irene and Benicio is handled with genuine humanity and a real sense of style. For example, typical lines of dialogue, which is a potential minefield of clichés, are muted. Instead, a synth-heavy soundtrack is placed over the action—robotic and repetitive on the surface but listen closely: lyrics are filled with sadness and longing. They find a connection precisely because of their loneliness. Irene’s husband (Oscar Isaac) is in jail. It is expected, too, that he will be released just when The Driver and Irene begin to consider taking what they have a bit further. Clearly, tension is not always reliant upon car chases.

Car chases demand that we hold our breaths. It is not interested in good guys and bad guys shooting guns at each other. No, emphasis is placed on stealth as The Driver attempts to get his clients (often thieves) to safety within five minutes after leaving the scene of the crime. Notice that in these scenes, we are locked in the car with our protagonist. No score, no soundtrack. We hear breathing, gasps, tires rubbing against the pavement. It gets so silent and so still at times, we feel our chests pounding from anticipation. Eyes wide open. The work offers a first-rate experience. It requires skill, great timing, a real eye for action and reaction.

By the end of the movie, more than half a dozen people are dead and there is blood money. I’m not interested in introducing the players, but know this: they are played by terrific character actors like Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, and Ron Perlman. They know how to command a scene simply by standing in one spot and giving a look. There is wonderful chemistry among all the performers. I felt as though everyone had signed up for the film because they believed in it, that they actually wanted to be there and do the best job possible. It shows.

“Drive” is an ensemble piece. The chess pieces are moved into place in a way that is logical, exciting, and thrilling. Viewers might remember it for the violence—they are brutal, in-your-face, and real bloody. However, notice that these scenes often have a point. They are never gratuitous or glamorized; it shows, for instance, that a hammer to the hand is especially painful, that kicking one’s face in is ugly and gross, that one car crashing against one another is loud and disturbing. In this story, violence is a means of survival.

My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Liv Corfixen, wife of the man who made the critically acclaimed “Drive,” takes control of the camera and documents the creative process of her husband’s work while shooting “Only God Forgives” for six months in Bangkok, Thailand.

“My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn” is a documentary that is unnecessary, unfocused, and not completely engaging. What I liked about it, however, is that it shows some of the trials of being in charge of a movie. That is, being a director is not exactly a glamorous job. It is full of stresses which involve finances, having only a limited time to shoot certain scenes depending on location, and there is always a concern about whether the final product would be received well by critics and audiences.

Director Corfixen is a passive director in that she fails to ask her subject the difficult questions. For example, Refn emphasizes that he does not want to make the same movie as “Drive” and so he tries to make a less commercial picture as a follow-up. As the director of this documentary, it is Corfixen’s responsibility to drill the subject with questions about expectations, his definition of success, or what makes a great film despite criticisms or acclaim. It is most frustrating that Corfixen always treats Refn as her husband first and as a subject second—if at all. Thus, why make the documentary at all?

We get some behind-the-scenes look of “Only God Forgives” which is neat at times because it is a chance to see how Refn works with equipments, the crew, and actors. But there is not enough of these. There are more scenes shot in the hotel which would not have been a problem if Refn had something interesting to say on a consistent basis. There is a lot of laying about in bed and shots of the children running around or playing. Once in a while we observe Refn about to break due to the stress of having to put the film together. Prior to day one of shooting, he admits to not having an idea what the movie is really about.

The saving grace of this documentary is Ryan Gosling. There is something about him that just commands attention. He doesn’t need to say anything—which actually says a lot. There is a funny bit about Refn explaining to his lead the parallels between violence and sex. Gosling looks at the camera every time there is an opportunity for a dirty joke. This film ought to have more playful moments like that—fluctuations to prevent the audience from falling asleep. Director Alejandro Jodorowsky also makes an appearance.

Bottom line: the documentary is supposed to be about Refn. Although Gosling and Jodorowsky appearing in the film is fun, I did not feel as though I got to know Refn as a person or a director in a substantial way. Based on this, the film falls short.