Friday, October 7, 2011

Movie Review: Drive (2011)

I was going to sit down and explain why I am seemingly in the minority of people who didn't love Drive but then I started reading other reviews and felt a little ashamed of having such a controversial opinion.
I went over to see Jon at Films Worth Watching who has already come across people with the same arguments as me and in his excellent review seemingly bats them away with the ease of a great writer and a great lover of cinema. He made me want to see the film again.

Nicholas Winding Refn, director of the Pusher trilogy and Bronson, good movies with flaws that left me feeling a little flat by the time the movie ended but with strong performances. Ryan Gosling, not exactly a good looking guy brought to peoples attention by appearing in a Nicholas Sparks movie and has only worked sparingly since including an apparently (because I'm yet to see it) stellar performance in last years Blue Valentine. The combination of the two has produced what is undoubtedly Refn's finest work and quite probably Gosling's too.

It's a movie about a guy who drives, his name is Driver, he hardly says more than three words throughout the film but he sure can drive and bite on a toothpick. There's a heist. It goes wrong. There's some danger, some chases, some women and children in peril, some violence but not too much and nothing really shocking if you view it as part of the film rather than an "oh my golly gosh darn my children are going to see this one scene and want to stamp each other's heads off, kill Hollywood!" way or if you've seen movies that weren't made in Hollywood before.

And this is where I have a problem with the movie. It wears its cinematic influences on its sleeve, whether Refn was joking about 16 Candles and Pretty Woman or not it was obvious to me that the protagonist was basically Alain Delon in Le Samourai, Leah pulled up the Michael Mann comparison straight away and the scene in the elevator was like a watered down version of the opening of Irreversible.

Refn is a Scandinavian film maker, that's an area of Europe for those not so familiar with geography, and he brings a very European style to the film. His cinematography is beautiful, the atmosphere he builds with the soundtrack is very powerful and the protagonist who hardly speaks just adds to that. As far as I can tell the uniqueness of these aspects in an American action movie are the main reasons people are loving Drive but I've seen it all before and I think that might be why I don't love it. Yet. As I said, I will re-watch it and I sort of expect to change my mind when I do.

People have been bringing up the film maker with the giant face and pop culture dialogue to compare Refn to and I can see that; his filmic references to movies long past and use of soundtrack are similar in style but I hadn't seen the films referenced by Tarantino before seeing his movies so it was a lot more impressive than seeing Melville and Freidkin and Kim Ki-Duk regurgitated on screen.

If you've read this far you may be thinking that I didn't actually like the movie. I did. It's the best Hollywood movie I've seen in a long time. I can't even remember the last one that was as good as this that I could compare it to. Inception perhaps. Best American genre movie since Inception. But I can only give it 7 or 7.5 our of 10. This would be one of those times that being a film geek has dampened by enthusiasm for a film as I think on another day at another time I could quite easily have gushed and called it the greatest movie who ever lived or something equally nonsensical.

Let the blah begin. Or the name calling if you prefer! But whatever you think of my words please go read Jon's review, it's really very good.


  1. I just finished up my glowing review of this, it will show up in a couple hours.

    It does wear its influences on its sleeve, and doesn't offer anything groundbreaking but Refn clearly knows how to use all those elements, and in my opinion does so without making it feel like just another rehash.

    The nightclub scene in Irreversible is ugly, disorienting and disturbing, and because of where it appears in the film has no effect other than to shock the audience. But the elevator scene here is a beautiful and brilliant display of passion and violence that serves as an important turning point for the characters. Both powerful scenes but really the only thing they have in common is a caved in head.

  2. A friend of mine saw this and didn't seem to share the love for it either

    I myself haven't seen it yet tho

  3. I love this write up.

    It is a shame that you didn't feel the same about it as me, but that is why I like you so much. You have the ability NOT to be taken away and see something for what it is.


  4. @BT - i just don't know about that elevator scene, perhaps because i knew it was coming it wasn't as powerful and i was busy dissecting the different aspects of it? everything and everyone tells me i should love this movie but i didn't. im clearly broken.

    @DWC - it's a great film, i know it is, i just didn't connect with it.

    @SL - i dont know whether to be offended so i won't be but...if i were you i'd ignore this as some crazed mad man's ranting. i'm bound to wake up and realise i love it as much as anyone else out there sooner rather than later.

  5. Seemingly every single person in the blogosphere is writing about this.
    Man, WHY are all the interesting films released so late in Germany?!

  6. Toby,

    I can't thank you enough for the great mention here. That's very kind of you. I know you're well aware of how I feel about the film. In talking about Delon in Le Samourai (one of my favorite films), his character is a hit man by trade. He's all into the code and the way of life. Gosling's Driver, doesn't give me the impression that he is a "killer" per se. He's the Driver. He gets pulled into a vortex due to his trying to help out his friends, and then becomes the "killer". I find this progression to be the fascinating character development and also the fact that he's kind of like a superhero in a way. I guess that's how I feel he's different than the Delon character. Yes on the "surface", he's like Delon, or Eastwood, but it's the underneath that's different for me. I get back to what are the motivations?

  7. Oh and Toby, Great Review Yourself! Oh and your mention of Tarantino is probably apropos. I think Refn's style here is more like something Tarantino would do. I wonder if people would think the film was derivative if Tarantino had directed it?

  8. I'm with you, Toby. I didn't love Drive, but I did think it was pretty solidly made. I'm wondering how much of my (and lots of other folks) underwhelm was because we were making subconscious comparisons to The Transporter. Drive is a better movie than that, but it could have used some action to spice it up a bit.

  9. Damn, I still haven't seen this, but I sooooo want to. The sheer volume of positive reviews for this has been amazing, so I guess it must be okay!

    Great review, Toby!

  10. @ Alan,

    Interesting comment. My question is whether this is really an "action" picture at heart. I didn't feel that it was so didn't feel like I needed more.

  11. @JON - You're welcome for the mention, if ever a link was deserved it was this one.

    I agree with your points on Delon, it was the fact that on the surface they are similar and both exist almost entirely as their profession, both are seemingly doomed because of a woman too, there's a remarkably similar arc but yes Driver is much less selfish. I think this may have to be an addition at the end of the noir-a-thon actually. But i think to see it again soon is still the order of the day.

    RE: Tarantino, are people saying Drive is derivative? Or is it just a few people including me? My blinkers have been firmly removed with regards to QT recently, he may struggle to do much right in my eyes soon. So if he had made this (which he couldn't have because it's too subtle) i would be saying the same thing.

    @ALAN - Hey buddy, good to see you back around these parts. I've not seen TRANSPORTER tbh (Jason Statham?) but I don't think the action was the point of this movie. If anything I could've done with less action or romance!

    @RODNEY - It's well worth seeing, officially released in Australia very soon so the wait is almost over. Thanks for stopping by.

  12. I feel a little bit guilty saying that Drive needed more driving. When the action comes it is tense and artfully done without shying away from the extreme violence, but that all starts to go away as soon as the characters start talking, or sighing and looking at each other. Nice review.

  13. Hey Toby, I haven't seen this one yet but why do you feel bad that you don't love it?? I think your review is fair, hey I think 7 out of 10 is still pretty darn good. I have a feeling that I might not love it as much as people do, either, I dunno, just a hunch.

  14. @DAN.O - You're right! I was expecting some more driving/cruising from Gosling in this. I do love the contrasts between the violence and the subtlety of Gosling/his relationships however.

    @RUTH - Everything about this movie (including the reactions of others) says that I should love it but I just didn't. Maybe it's a symptom of becoming an old grouch? I should really start teaching before I get too film school tutor cliched. I hope you do enjoy it, I hope everyone enjoys it and Hollywood start making intelligent genre movies again.

  15. You are such a film snob Toby!!! :P If this is the best Hollywood movie in quite some time to you and still only gets a 7/10, I'm afraid the Transformers of the world stand no chance!

  16. I'm surprised you said it has a European look, since I found it profoundly American (as I have done with all of Refn's work) inspired, with the noir elements and such!

    Gosling was known before Blue Valentine. He had an Oscar nom. He did the Notebook. I guess that's when people realized he's not just awesomely handsome.

  17. You're quite right in many points. This film is very slow and magically unveils the inevitable when the pace incredibly speeds up. I also loved the fact that the characters barely speak. And it is true that it is a great genre Hollywood film. Funny that a) Refn himself is an outsider from Hollywood and b) Gosling was the main power behind gathering funds for the film to be made. Worth pointing out I think :))

  18. The film did not leave me luke warm as it did you. I found the film well shot with a very cool minimalist style, all the fat trimmed off.

    The love triangle was started and maintained in art house fashion, not in a mainstream Hollywood way. The camera stays in certain scenes and lets them materialize naturally, something I was not expecting. Very Lost in Translation.

  19. Ha ha...finally someone agrees!

  20. @Castor - It turned out that it wasn't just the film snob bit that made me feel this way. But you're right Transformers has no place in my world.

    @Anna - I think it had a European feel, the look is pure American film soleil. I never saw The Notebook (no interest from this hot blooded male :p) I wasn't incorrect in stating it was based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks was I? But I did love him in Lars & The Real Girl and remember thinking he was pretty good in The United States of Leland.

    @Blondoner - As always you're right with your comments. Ryan Gosling can't have had a huge pull with the financial side of things as a star (four movies in five years doesn't scream money i'm sure) but just from teh few things I've seen in interviews etc he was certainly passionate about the project which must have been irresistable to some. Thankfully.