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September 27, 2011


(2011, Dir. by Nicolas Winding Refn.)

After more than 25 years, our questions finally have some answers.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, allow me to do some enlightening for y'all.

The year was 1984, and The Cars - a groovy bunch of rockers by any standard - released a song that asked a lot of questions and provided no answers.  The song was titled Drive, and it left most of the world's population confused.  Who's gonna drive you home tonight?  Who's gonna pick you up when you fall?  Who's gonna pay attention to YOUR dreams?  Heck, all they told us is that we couldn't go on thinking nothing's wrong...and that's a great message, isn't it?  What kind of sick band leaves us hanging for so long?

Now it's 2011, and Nicolas Winding Refn - a new challenger to the throne of "Director with the most confusing to pronounce name ever" (NAME ONE OTHER TIME YOU'VE SEEN AN F AND AN N BACK TO BACK IN A WORD!  JUST ONE!) - has directed a film that answers those questions.  I'm not sure why Ric Ocasek isn't in the credits - Refn even goes out of his way to claim that this film is based on one of those "books" written by a guy named James Sallis - but it's clear that the introspective tone of The Cars' haunting single are at the core of the film version of Drive.

If we're working through the song, we quickly learn that Bernie Rose - an old-school crime lord played by veteran awesome person Albert Brooks - is here to tell the driver played by Ryan Gosling (or, as I like to call him, Ryan Baby Goose!) when things are too late.  The crime lord is a ruthless fellow, assisted by a Jewish pizza shop owner/thug played by the great Ron Perlman, and he seems intent on telling this young driver that things aren't so great.  In a mid film scene, he tells the lead character about the misfortune that befell his lone friend - a mechanic played by Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston - when he crossed the vicious duo, and sends a simple message to the driver.  In one of the final confrontations between the two, he points out bluntly that the rest of the driver's life will be trouble and that it's too late for that to change....basically saying that the driver would be wise to stop thinking nothing's wrong.

In the midst of the driver's confusion, a young woman who lives down the hallway (Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan) seems to pick him up when he falls.  Or perhaps it's the driver that does the same for her, since he also seems to pay attention to the dreams of the woman and her young son, who are missing their incarcerated husband/father (Sucker Punch's Oscar Isaac).  The driver is not much of a talker - the viewer should be prepared for countless awkward pauses - but he always seems to here what's going on around him and seems to have a keen understanding of what's going on around him.  He can block out the distractions around him, and at one point it even seems that he plugs his ears when an associate played by Christina Hendricks screams.  Again, this is all in the song, and it can't be denied.

You'd expect a movie about a driver for hire involved with the mob to be a high octane action movie, just like you'd expect a hit song by The Cars to be uptempo and powerful.  In both cases, Drive is not what you'd expect. I wouldn't call Drive a film noir type story - it's not dark enough visually - but the themes of betrayal, mistrust and impending doom that fill those old L.A. based crime tales are prevalent in Refn's film.  It's one of those movies that reminds me of movies I love dearly - like Vanishing Point and Shane - but creates its own identity as it goes on.

Unlike the song, there's a nasty side to this film.  Most of the violence is teased and only shown in brief flashes, but what we do see includes exploding skulls and stomped faces. But the film doesn't linger on the violence. It doesn't make the scene about the violence.  It wants us to know the violence is out there, and wants to show us that this "kid" who seems like a good guy despite his criminal activity still has an animalistic side. But it would rather have us be afraid of the emotions and the actions than the images of that violence.

Maybe I'm way off on Drive.  Maybe The Cars didn't have anything to do with it.  It's one of those movies that's one of a kind and makes you think too much.  I probably haven't done the film justice with this half-cocked ramble, but that's the beauty of it all.  Drive is something you don't expect - just like a review that compares a art-house action flick to a 27 year old ballad.  And I think I'm for that.

(Oh, and the soundtrack is AWESOME.  And doesn't feature The Cars.)


therealphoenixanew said...

I always loved that song as a kid. I remember the "Whose going to plug your ears" line really stuck with me, as it created what I thought was such a bizarre image in my head. "Why would anyone do that?" my young mind wondered.

Suffice to say, I enjoyed this post a lot. I have no idea if it is an accurate review of the film, but it was a fun read anyway.

R.D. Penning said...

Hugh Hef(fn)er = Hugh Heffner

: said...

Sooooo good. My favorite non-horror film of the last few years.

I've had a crush on Mulligan ever since I saw this for the first time.