Friday, September 23, 2011

DRIVE - A Real Hero

I know a lot of guys who mess around with married women, but you're the only one I know who robs a place to pay back the husband. 

From the Hot Pink titles; to the electro-kitsch soundtrack; to Ryan Gosling's silver satin jacket; to the neon lights of Los Angeles, DRIVE is a movie that oozes cool.  It's hero, simply titled "Driver" is so cool, he barely needs to speak, has no discernible back-story, merely exists. As both a stunt- and get-away-driver, he barely breaks a sweat, and even when for a sweet girl (Carey Mulligan) and her son, he barely cracks a smile.  The courtship is so low-key, chaste, Driver's attitude so stoic, at times I even doubted he had been moved at all. And then, when his girl needs a hero, that's exactly what he becomes.  The change comes by stealth, jarring, shocking, and the movie, like its hero (now capitalised) shifts from quirky romance into hard-core ultra-violence.  Driver becomes the man his angelic, virginal girlfriend needs - maybe the man he always wanted to be, and just needed the excuse to become - the violence evidently so close to the surface.  Within what feels like seconds, we have descended into overwhelming violence, no-way-out kind of snowballing craziness.  Driver seems to welcome it.  It seems to be his fate.

DRIVE is another example of director Nicolas Windig Refn's obsession with, and objectification of, men who define themselves through violence.  Again and again - whether Tom Hardy in BRONSON or Mads Mikkelsen in VALHALLA RISING, Refn glories in the image of "hard" men covered in blood and gore.  The objectification is sometimes pretty disturbing, it feels voyeuristic, slippery, fascistic - we are being made complicit in, and enjoying to the point of nervous laughter, heinous violence. This sense of deeply, deeply black humour is heightened by some genius casting in the supporting roles - Albert Brooks playing against type as a sleazy B-movie producer cum mobster - Ron Perlman as a West Coast mafiosi - and Bryan Cranston as the semi-father figure who pimps Driver out for heist jobs.  (Sadly, Mad Men's Christina Hendricks' is underused in a cameo.) The humour also comes from Hossein Amini's tightly written adaptation of James Sallis' novel. But ultimately, given the glossy, seedy, look and feel of the movie, the ultimate praise has to go to Refn, for creating both his most mainstream movie to date, but betraying none of that particular brand of "violence and romantic sexiness" - and Gosling, who with but a flicker of eyes can betray a complexity of emotion beyond most of his generation of actors.  

DRIVE played Cannes, where Nicolas Windig Refn won Best Director, and Toronto 2011. It opened on September 16th in the US, Croatia, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Canada and Poland. It opens today in Greece, Ireland, and the UK. It opens on September 30th in Malaysia and Italy. It opens on October 5th in France; on October 7th in Finland, on October 13th in Hong Kong, on October 21st in Estonia and Norway and on October 27th in Australia. It opens on November 3rd in Russia and Singapore, on November 18th in Sweden, on December 8th in Portugal and on January 26th 2012 in Germany.

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