“My hands are a little dirty.”
“So are mine.”
I had been trying to get my dad to watch Drive for ages and had never succeeded until last Saturday night, where I finally thought of the perfect descriptor for it: “it’s Le Samourai for the 21st century”.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 neon-core, audience smash owes more than a nameless, post modern protagonist to Jean-Pierre Melville’s sublime 1967 classic. Like the latter, it values silence, holding onto the current moment before moving onto the other. There’s no rush to pack in one action scene after another, the violence is short and sudden, like a lightning bolt, which strengthens the impact.
For the rest of the film, it ponders, slowly. The camera follows Driver down supermarket aisles, Los Angeles streets in the cool, fluorescent night, tracking with a fluid, unrushed lyricism that transforms it from your run-of-the-mill action movie to a cool, beautiful film that seamlessly flows between genres. It’s Malick in the lengthy scenes without words, but also Tarantino in its graphic, sudden violence, 80s B-movies in action sequences and pulsing, electronic, memorable soundtrack, and of course Melville in its metallic, blue-tinged cinematography. Like in Rush, the colour scheme is important, creating an atmosphere of exhaust, heat, and steam through reds and blues with a hint of black.
The underuse of dialogue and emphasis on facial expression and gesture is utilised in a selection of ways, the most interesting of which is Driver and Irene’s relationship. It is one where the viewer is not witness to much – Carey Mulligan and Ryan Gosling probably say under 100 words each – yet, their whole story is evident in an instant, conveyed through glances, volumes spoken through facial expressions and gesture, supported with minimal, fine dialogue. There are no intimate words or love scenes (bar one, but that ends quickly), none of the usual scenes chronicling a relationship, yet their whole story is told through looks and thoughts, windows into their minds, thoughts, and when they’re alone, the intimacy is palpable. Mulligan has an ability to express an incredible amount just through her eyes, in an instant it’s known that Irene grew up too fast, that she’s so young, but yet feels so much older because of getting swept away by Standard, who she loves, but can’t help feel that he’s taken something away from her. Gosling also possesses this power, and despite his characters closed-off personality, he’s able to communicate the protective pull he feels towards Irene and Benicio, and how he relates to them perhaps because of his own childhood.
Despite its evident influences from many classics, Drive never plays like a rip off of the classics its style is drawn from. As with Le Samourai, it’s muted, minimal, breezy and simple, but also intricate and complex, wonders lying in silence and inconspicuous methods of revealing plot points. While more technologically focussed than the roots of its style, with gripping chase scenes and shots of LA at night, Drive never strays from what it aims to be – a film where actions speak louder than words.
Drive received a limited release in October 2011.
MA (strong bloody violence), 100 mins.