Drive – Movie of the year?
Think of all the great uncommunicative characters in cine-history. The film buff’s mind inevitably wonders to the western. Specifically pretty much every role Clint Eastwood’s played in the genre, the man with no name being the standout.
Their mood is barely discernible but every shrug of the shoulder or twitch of a facial muscle tells you all you need to know if you look close enough.
To that roster you can add Ryan Gosling’s driver. Succinct, taciturn and capable of exuding sweet charm as well as boiling menace; it is yet another stylish turn to add to Gosling’s impressive work throughout the year.
Of course the main difference from Clint’s movies here is that this is set in modern LA and concerns itself with a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. The city itself becomes a key mood setter with the highly stylised 80s look presenting a location both beautiful (especially in the night-time chopper shots of the neon cityscape) and alienating.
The plot tho’ is pure western. A lone wolf of a man with a decent soul but little to hold on to in life except routine is given a shot at redemption. This comes through Carey Mulligan’s new neighbour and her son.
His relationship with them is touchingly sketched with the soundtrack perfectly illustrating the new-found peace that the Driver gets from it. Incidentally the soundtrack throughout is excellent, whether cleverly interweaving itself with a sports game to add tension to a heist pick-up or creating an awful foreboding that hints at events to come.
Those well versed in the plots of this kind know that the happiness can’t last and sure enough Mulligan’s husband turns up from prison bringing a cloud over the movie and ushering in some graphic violence.
On the way there you get two exquisitely shot car chases. One a study in the drivers cool composure when the heats on; another displays his driving talent and quick thinking.
The violence is certainly not for the squeamish as it is graphic and much of it is shot in close up for extended periods. But it can also be disturbingly funny as in the case of Albert Brooks’ novel use of the humble table fork; followed by an even more killer punch line. His performance and those of the other support cast are all solid if slightly heightened.
But crucially it never throws the key theme out of whack and we still remember this is a film about a man who is faced with sacrificing himself to protect those he loves.
This is crystallised impressively in a lift scene where we see Driver kissing his new-found love passionately for the first time. In fact time seems to stand still due to some excellent directorial tricks. And then he caves in the skull of a hired killer in the very same lift with nothing but his (admittedly cool looking) shoes.
In protecting his love he has to reveal his true nature to her and so risks loosing her. Again; pure western. This film is not for everyone but if you enjoy stylishly shot and scored explorations of violence and man’s battle against his own character then this was custom made for you. Just like Driver’s awesome scorpion decorated bomber jacket.
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