Friday, September 30, 2011



To comment on whether or not ‘Drive’ (directed by Nicolas Winding Refn) succeeds depends on what one thinks it aspires to be. I thought it was intended to be a dark, tight action drama reminiscent of procedures from the pre-CGI era, where people blew up cars when they wanted to blow up cars. There are very few directors in present day (I shall conveniently exclude veterans who still stick to practices from ‘good old times’) that one can ascribe this ambition to. And in that, Danish Director Nicolas Winding Refn (the ‘Pusher’ trilogy) marks himself on a list that has Ben Affleck (‘Gone Baby Gone’, ‘the Town’) and Christopher Nolan (‘Insomnia’, ‘Batman Begins’) as champions of a mechanical revolution as opposed to its virtual counterpart. There’s supposedly an exciting debut in this line called ‘Bellflower’ (directed by Evan Glodell) that I’m yet to watch. That, I presume, would be all of the sane action that Hollywood would have to offer this season.

So the most that one can accuse ‘Drive’ is of lack of the same in its storyline, not exemplifying characters and interactions. I never wanted it to. Neither is that the only reason I’m not disappointed. The film does not parade on violence, augment the rawness of its action to atrophic amounts, or cash-in on the selling potential of its acting talent. It walks a fine line, sometimes it jogs. There isn’t a moment when it’s uncomfortable doing that, it never falters. And that’s as exciting as the film can get, which I thought was fine. It’s a simple film that sticks to basics. It works. 

Like all action films that want their context established, ‘Drive’ begins with a prototype – a sample. A man, unnamed (Ryan Gosling, credited as ‘Driver’ for convenience) is on a negotiation as tart as his job. He drives. In the ten-minute sequence before the opening credits, Refn tries to establish his Driver as opposed to anyone else’s. He isn’t one of the Paul Walker types to get from place A to place B taking the least amount of time in an adrenalin rush. He’s organic, he evolves. Driving, for Refn (and screenwriter Hossein Amini) is driving slow as well, driving cautiously, stopping when required and taking the right turns at the right time. Skill here is information and improvisation. John Woo might incorporate motor-boats and helicopters into our hero’s skillset, but that’s another story. Our Driver isn’t a daredevil. He’s poise in impulse, topped by the slouchy, hands-in-pocket sort of attitude characteristic of Gosling. He’s stylized, but not made an icon.

If the film is only as good as the story you write the Driver into, then it’s passable at best. Hossein Amini’s ('Jude', 'the Four Feathers') screenplay is backed by a romantic affection, a certain fondness juxtaposed upon the Driver’s steadiness of mind in the eve of crises. That’s his direction and it’s a little unconvincing, I’m not going to lie. It’s too much in convenience where things fall in place and apart with mechanized ease and order. It’s straight, sequential and undisrupted. Too much so.

So ‘Drive’, with the stronghold of Mr. Refn, has a less-than-convincing turn of events. And Christina Hendricks. I presume we still have belief in directorial ability to augment an actor’s performance. Ben Affleck empowered that belief by making Blake Lively act in ‘the Town’. Ms. Hendricks is comparatively repulsive. She’s like a big, sloppy blot on Film-Reel – she’s got too much to carry with too little grace, and I mean that literally as well. Carey Mulligan, on the other hand, is as charming as Rebecca Hall was. Please note I’m only comparing the impact and not drawing an analogy. It’s vital to have an endearing, almost completely innocent character in a premise as this and Mulligan, who served as the Emotional Quotient in Oliver Stone’s ‘Wall Street: Money never Sleeps’, fits the bill. Also, of course, there’s a cute little romance with shades of respectability between her Irene and the Driver. Veterans Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman are convincing stereotypes. Oscar Isaac, as Standard Gabriele, has little to do but looks smart in sunglasses. That’s as much credit as I can give him.

I’m aware I’ve talked about two contrasting angles of looking at the film. But I think it doesn’t deserve to be seen through unassuming eyes – it doesn’t deserve to be hated as much as it’s liked. There are films that you like despite loathsome aspects. There are those you like after ignoring them, which is actually warranted. ‘Drive’ is one such. It’s good that it’s simple, bad that it’s overly so. And it has Ryan Gosling in another game-changing performance. He’s solid, he towers. He fits the Driver’s clothes and they look good on him as well. But then he punches like a girl and looks a little too soft when he smiles. Still, I’ll go easy on him. He’s one of the good ones, you know? Probably the only one these days.

No comments: