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Drive: a super-cool take on LA noir

March 15, 2012

The gold scorpion jacket is also a memorable iconic element.

Drive may just be my new favourite film and those are strong words indeed for someone who has as many favourites as I do. The first word I would use to describe it is cool, and the magnetic Ryan Gosling really personifies cool here. A character of few words, the driver is an iconic figure – mythic, even superhuman, as at the end he drives relentlessly away into the night.

Gosling is an interesting actor. He’s no cute pin-up, despite his Disney roots, and he’s not excruciatingly hip either – well, not yet. He manages to remain Ryan Gosling the star while also inhabiting characters as diverse as political animal Stephen Meyers in the Ides of March (2011) or sad-sack husband Dean in Blue Valentine (2010).

Drive references different ‘classic’ Hollywood crime genres like noir and heist movies while also resusing its traditional themes – like the nameless, mysterious monosyllabic anti-hero, thrumming with the potential to do great violence, and endlessly appealing to women – in this case the wonderful, sensitive Carey Mulligan.

But unlike many other films that blithely borrow the best of other films and genres, Drive is inventive and fresh, contributing something new and contemporary to a bored and boring industry. This is largely achieved through its artistry and stylishness: the unusual look and sound of the film. From the Moroder-sounding 80’s-synth segments of the score to its moodily-lit neon nighttime realism, this film also imagines contemporary LA in a manner that is simultaneously visceral and melancholy. LA as place ends up being an equal presence in the film, evoking other classic LA noir and neo-noir films like The Maltese Falcon, or Chinatown.

Obviously its cool is not enough to recommend this film. It’s also very good, extremely well-acted and affecting. We actually care about these people, even if they are almost all failures, criminals and/or lowlives. The film was critically well-received – if not with the same enthusiasm at the box office. Drive is also extremely violent, but the violence works and even seems neccessary. It’s important in films about violent people that they pull no punches, even if it does mean watching a character’s head getting blown apart. What Drive’s violence also does is introduce a note of disturbing ambiguity into the film. We, as audience, are implicated when we feel excitement at the sight of the driver, bloody and intent, wielding his hammer. Watching the hero kick a man’s head to mush is a confusing, real, moment.

Which brings me to the next point: alonside its violence, Drive is also sexily romantic (Mulligan and Gosling have amazing chemistry). Its about longing, restraint and responsibility yet only features one kiss. It uses moments of tenderness and love, romantic and familial, as a conterpoint to the casual brutality of its monstrous, psychopathic gangsters, which in turn lends meaning – and adds horror – to its ugly images of death and destruction.

Another noticable feature of Drive its its tension. It’s a slow, muted film yet also features a series of loud, gripping, speedy sequences, most of them involving and showcasing, yes, driving. Yet the driving – and I hate car chase films – is not gratuitous boy-porn. Instead it’s a metaphor for the restless, rootless motion and alienation of the driver, and the city.

Despite the many unpleasant characters and the sleazy setting the final moments of the film are quiet, beautiful and eerily painful, leaving a poignant taste when the credits roll. In a year of rubbish remakes or overblown, undeserving awards-ceremony favourites, Drive is a class act, and memorable into the bargain. That alone makes it deserving of an Oscar, and a viewing, in my book.

  1. starbad permalink

    Thank you so much for the reviews! I really like Ryan Gosling, he was absolutely wonderful in The Notebook but I haven’t seen the Drive or Blue Valentine. A few friends that I work with at Dish told me they seen both and really enjoyed them. I have read a few reviews about them as well and they seemed pretty good. I went ahead and ordered them both on Blockbuster @Home so they should be arriving in the mail pretty soon. Good thing I don’t have to return them right away, I feel rushed if I only get to watch the movies one time. I hate dealing with late fees.

    • Thanks! He is Very different in those two, compared with The Notebook!

  2. Great review. I absolutely love this movie and I don’t understand the people who hated it. It’s like getting in a time machine and going back to the 80’s. Great post!

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