Sunday, 16 October 2011

But, I should get back to the plot : How 'Drive' will drive you nuts?



It’s been nearly 10 days now, not nearly, it’s exactly been 10 days now. 10 long days since I have seen a movie. And, for most normal people it might seem fine, to me such a vast stretch of time without watching a movie is taxing. And, the self imposed moratorium on not watching another movie till I finish this review (essay or piece) on Drive during one of the more exhausting week at work seemed like a bad idea. But, it’s Sunday and I finally get on with the task.

I like movies, from the chick flicks to the mindless action ones. But, the movies I always love aren’t the ones which are punctuated by plot but the story moves forward because of the behavior and actions of the characters. And, ‘Drive’ might not have a strong emotional core, but its eponymous untitled/unnamed lead character ‘Driver’ is so well fleshed out and acted by Ryan Gosling that it doesn’t even matter that the movie is all surface, all shine and style over substance.

As evident from the trailers and the title, the Driver drives and he does a real good job at it too. In the opening scene of some lovely editing and camera work, we see him outsmart not out speed a bunch of cops chasing after him. We see that he works as a stunt driver by day and a getaway driver for heists at night. Yet, even though we are just 15 or 20 odd minutes into the movie, we realize that there’s something odd about him. Ryan Gosling lends him his skin and his good boy aura, but we can easily sense that there’s some sort of restlessness, an overpowering anger brewing inside. We realize that all this driving is not for the money or to even show of his skills, this man, is only at peace when his hands are on the steering. And, that’s the case with so many of us, we all tend to do things in times of crisis that makes us feel in control, some resort to cooking, some to eating, the Driver clings to driving, because that is his domain.

And, then enters Irene (Carey Mulligan), his neighbor who seems to be single mother. Though Drive is all surface, the director Nicolas Winding Refn manages to get this one detail right. When the Driver offers his help to her and her kid, we see him showing some real emotion for the first time. Something inside him moves for sure. And, it’s obvious that there’s some mutual attraction between him and Irene. Instead of going to the wall to wall banter in romantic comedies or heightened antics on the part of the hero, we just see them looking at each other and grinning. Grinning like a bunch of teens that are falling in love and besides no matter what age you fall for someone, you can’t help but not stop grinning when you see that person. The lovely comfortable silences between them and those innumerable times they just look and grin at each other are a reason enough for me to watch this movie again. Yes, there’s barely an exchange of words or ideas or feelings between them and even without that, it doesn't seem superficial. Their’s might be the chastest courting in the movies of our time. Also surprising the vast number of scenes Drive goes on when nobody utters a word; it’s as if the world inhabited by the Driver is a laconic one, where people speak only when needed to.

The plot kicks in and the grinning stops, Irene’s ex-convict husband Standard returns from prison. He is asked to pull a heist or his family would suffer. The Driver volunteers to help him. And, before I describe you what happens next, which well is quite obvious more or less. Let me just point a few other details I liked. The first time, the Driver and Standard interact, he tries to intimidate him, but the Driver just stands there, unfettered and smiles politely. And, this is his reaction to most scenes; he stands there like the white knight. And, the framing and the slightly canted angles whenever he is interacting with the scum in the movie, only elevates his stature and nobility. Drive might be a neo-noir film (and a good one at that) with its heist plans but Refn dissects it with some fairy tale elements too. Carrey Mulligan could any day play a damsel in distress/ Snow White character and she is directed and shot in a way that only enhances the immaculate attributes of her character, Gosling’s Driver as the knight, her husband as the vile King and in a very surprising turn Albert Brooks as Bernie Ross, the evil witch/ demon, you know the works.

Also I wish I could post a screenshot of the scene, with some clever framing, we see in the same frame Gosling’s blurred reflection, Benicio and Irene and Standard’s photograph stuck on a mirror. And, we know that the framing only shows how the Driver turns into a surrogate father/ husband and the blurred reflection only puts forward the broken, still incipient nature of the Driver’s character, of how he is some simulacrum of a human being, all the parts are there, but not all of them function. This motif is repeated throughout the film and in some really clever ways. But, I should get back to the plot.

The heist as most heists in films go, goes wrong. The Driver is pitted against two crime lords Ron Perlman as Nino and Albert Brooks as Bernie Ross. The action scenes that follow are all impressive, and shocking and excessively gory. You know, the director is doing his job right when each time a gunshot is fired, you are taken by surprise. Ron Perlman brings great gravitas to a thankless and underwritten role just by his sheer physical presence and the timbre of his voice. But, what really stands apart is the way Albert Brooks, one of the funniest men working plays Bernie with shaved eyebrows, which I dunno why make him look more evil. Each line of his dialogue is uttered with just the right note of nefariousness and duplicity. He is the exact contrast of his partner. We see him bring the irate wise crack element from most of his movies giving an interesting edge to this villain. He isn’t the bloodthirsty sorts, he is the sorts who hate spilling blood, and it’s only a necessary work hazard for him. As per the badass villains in recent times go, Bernie Ross is surely legendary and might just get Brooks his well deserved and much delayed Oscar nod. Note to self: Shaved eye brows can make anyone look menacing.

As the heist goes wrong, the Driver shows some real character and loyalty. He does everything he can to protect Irene and her son and when after the final bloody battle, he drags himself in the car. Stabbed and bleeding, he goes ahead and drives, as the song in the background says with some delicious irony ‘You are real human being and a hero’ and only to punctuate the idea established so far, that he is not a human being. Irene was his last chance are redemption and as he abandons her and a whole load of cash, we see that he too knows, he’d never again come close to being human.

The tone of Drive is uneven and that’s what adds to its magic. From the quaint silences to Bernie’s venomous rants, it has it all. It even has the best kissing scenes in the history of celluloid. The Driver and Irene kiss each other in an elevator in slow motion. The incandescent lighting matches the subtle score by Cliff Martinez and heightens our satisfaction to see them finally DO something. It’s a perfect movie moment and then, the Driver bashes the henchman next to them and crushes his skull into pieces. This scene perfectly captures the tone of Drive and both these contrasting actions are given their due weight by Refn. It’s no surprise Refn picked the best director’s prize at Cannes.

Refn also has a great eye for detail; Drive is full of some wonderful framing and clever camera work. Shot on Arri Alexa, the movie is full of neon lit evocative imagery. I guess what the many shades of black and white meant to noir are what neon provides for neo-noir films. The DOP Newton Thomas Sigel juxtaposes the glitzy night life in L.A with the gritty images of isolated gas stations and deserted highways. The background score from Cliff Martinez is wonderful and pushes and paces the plot just right. The song ‘Tick of the Clock’ used perfectly in the opening scene would be stuck in your head for a long time. Some might say for a movie called Drive, there’s not just enough driving. A woman is suing the film makers because she expected something similar to the Fast and Furious franchisee and I realized, there are only 3 chase scenes. Even I wanted some more driving, not for the chase or thrill of the action, but because they were crafted so well. But any more of those would be pointless, each of them helped to propel the plot forward, they weren’t there for the action itself. And, after some more pondering I realized, the movie isn’t titled as Drive in the sense of use of the word 'drive' as a verb. It’s the use of the word as a noun, more than the act of driving; the movie is about the Drive that pushes the driver to do the things he does. From the grinning to the neon lights to that scene in the elevator, I so have to see this movie again. And, soon.

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