It’s a brilliant film that can make Los Angeles seem beautiful and mysterious. Heat, Collateral, Mulholland Drive. All these films have something in common with Drive and it is the ability to film at night, when the city has a soul. If New York is the city that never sleeps, Los Angeles is the city that sleeps late, wakes up and looms like a schizophrenic over the hot desert air. There is an energy in the air in the middle of the night that feels like you’re living near a run down casino built on top of a graveyard. The sunny side of the city is what you make of it, and if that is what you’re looking for, go watch Entourage. If there is an identity to the population of LA, it is that there isn’t one. It’s the pulp feel of anonymity in a crowd, the disregard for community itself except in small conclaves, and the noir sensibility that there are no heroes.
The two leads have the presence of the old school era of actors. Ryan Gosling is stoic, implacable, stupidly handsome. Carey Mulligan is beautiful, vulnerable, angelic. As Driver and Irene, they are lovely together, tragically so. This is beauty and the beast, at it’s core, because she is indentured and he is a monster, but that comes later. What is important is the quiet energy that passes between them, love expressed with the kind of confidence that only exists when there is no real certainty, only the thrill of potential. The word chemistry comes to mind, but that’s literally too clinical, chemistry is the science of reaction. Love is the reaction itself, it doesn’t exist objectively or in a vacuum, it’s only real in fits and starts, and it’s only part of a bigger story.
There is a lot going on in Drive, it’s possible to watch this film without any dialogue at all and understand the entire story completely. This comes from great acting, brilliant cinematography, excellent directing and….the music. I never thought that this brand of 80’s post-pop revival could evoke emotion the way it does. It’s literal, as it would have to be, but perfectly atmospheric. Again, without dialogue, this film would be a brilliant 90 minute music video if it wanted to be. And it is even if it didn’t.
My personal experience with this movie is seeing it at Alamo Drafthouse. My friend and I got there too late, all the seats were taken up and I had to watch it from ten feet under the screen. I walked out and didn’t give a shit at all. It was neat but I didn’t care or know why I’d just seen a special screening presented by Mondo (a wildly overrated pop art company that makes limited edition prints of movie posters that I have never once been interested in looking at twice). Two days later I was wondering if I cared about Driver or not, but I was invested in his need to protect Irene and her child. Three days later I struggled with whether or not I would have done the same in his position, or how I would have handled it. And then I blinked a few times and realized that I had been thinking about this film for three days. So I bought it and watched it again.
Ryan Gosling petitioned to have Nicolas Winding Refn direct, which confuses me. First, the man can’t drive a car, he didn’t have a license at the time and second, the endorsement came after seeing his film Bronson. I recommend that film, it’s based on a true story about a man who is addicted to violence and incarceration. Tom Hardy is the lead (Bane from The Dark Knight Rises) and he is horrifying and hypnotic at the same time. But there is a subtlety in Drive that I wouldn’t have expected from the same director. It is violent, when Driver makes his move it is hard to continue sympathizing with him. Damn near impossible. The Hyde to his Jekyll comes out so fluidly that I can’t help but admire Gosling all over again (the first time was in The Notebook, obvi). It’s the small things that make Driver so fascinating. When he is on, when he is Hyde, he doesn’t blink.
It occurs to me (intensely) of late, that the idea of love is more powerful…no, that’s not quite right. The influence of love can be wildly unpredictable, like a wounded animal. In this story, the lives of these lonely people are unraveled and then blasted apart. Would they have been better off without each other? Probably. But when that feeling comes, it comes in tidal wave form, it sucks you up and drags you along. You fight for your life and hope to end up on a piece of driftwood out in the middle of the ocean, that’s the best case scenario. In a good movie you know whether or not the person you were rooting for succeeded in the end. In a great movie, the ending isn’t an ending at all, it’s the end of a beginning. When it is done correctly, the plot transcends the storyteller and the listener. And when you are allowed to finish it in your heart it becomes a part of your story.